Detriment: A Questionable Distinction | Part 1: Historical Development

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Update 9/4-9/20:

A little over a month ago, this article was mentioned on a podcast where its arguments were misrepresented, support for the arguments were left out, and specious “additional evidence” for the reconstruction of a Hellenistic doctrine of detriment was put forth.  I’ve addressed the issues with the podcast arguments and presentation in some depth in a separate article, The Anachronism of Hellenistic Detriment, which you can find by clicking on that title.

Additionally, since that time, I’ve added a more convenient print article button and a table of contents feature to all articles. The fact that arguments and evidence presented in a long article were misrepresented to a popular audience that would be disinclined to read through it on the web was a primary motivation for such changes. Now one can find relevant information faster and more conveniently.

Today, I have additionally updated some of the contents of this article. In addition to general editing throughout, the following sections have been expanded or added: detriment as an addition to the symbolic system, notes on the meaning of ‘enantios’, notes on a passage recently discovered in Anubio, treatment of the technique of examining the ruler’s configuration, treatment of Brennan’s reconstruction, and notes on the possibility of textual interpolation. Additionally, I have made the sections on each astrologer little clearer.

Introduction

It is generally easier to notice what’s there than to notice what’s missing. So it is with detriment in Hellenistic astrology. The early works, those of about the first 500 years of Hellenistic astrology, reflect the foundational texts and fundamental features of the system. The concept of detriment is conspicuously absent from them. Yet traditional astrologers still tend not to notice. Instead, intimations of the concept, occurring at the tail end of the Hellenistic period, are used to “reconstruct” a concept into a system that lacked it.

Detriment was, in fact, conspicuously absent even from most early Perso-Arabic astrology. It was neither an integral part of Hellenistic astrology nor of early Perso-Arabic astrology. It became an integral part of the later tradition due to its use by one particularly pivotal early Perso-Arabic astrologer. Interestingly, that astrologer called the condition “fall” and defined it instead of rather than alongside the traditional type of fall. That astrologer’s work strongly influenced the astrology of Sahl and Abu Ma’shar. Their work in turn influenced the later tradition.

A Misleading Narrative

Many traditional astrologers believe that detriment was an important part of the Hellenistic astrological system. It is often simply assumed that it is present in the work of astrologers like Dorotheus of Sidon, Claudius Ptolemy, Vettius Valens, Paulus Alexandrinus, and Firmicus Maternus. To make matters worse, textbooks on Hellenistic astrology in recent years include detriment in a way that implies it was an integral part of the system of Hellenistic astrology.

Actually, detriment (by any name) was absent from the astrology of the early Hellenistic astrologers. In this article, I will address the lack of such a concept in each major Hellenistic text, as well as some later Perso-Arabic ones. The early Hellenistic astrologers clearly drew on many of the same lost foundational texts of the tradition (from the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE). These include the texts attributed to Hermes, Asclepius, Nechepso and Petosiris, Timaeus, and others referenced in them. Therefore, it is quite evident that detriment was not part of the original Hellenistic system.

Critically Considering Additions to the System

Detriment was a late-comer to traditional astrology, but was it a valuable late addition? To answer this from the view of astrology as a symbolic system, there are a few considerations. Actually, for any addition to the core interpretive system, we should ask the following key questions.

Is it Superfluous, Derivative of Existing Symbolism?

First, does detriment (by any name) add to the symbolism or simply restate the symbolic situation in a superfluous manner? If it is superfluous then it is not worthy of much of our attention. It is then just a teaching aid and not an astrological symbol of significance in and of itself. In other words, it would have nothing additional to say about what is signified. In such a case, awareness of it as a distinct concept would be inconsequential when it came to chart interpretation.

Is the Additional Symbolism in Conflict with Existing Symbolism?

Second, if detriment does add to the symbolism, then does this conflict with earlier interpretations of the same configurations? For instance, will Saturn in Leo mean something quite different for someone using detriment than it would’ve for the earlier Hellenistic astrologers that didn’t use detriment? If so, then there is the issue of which interpretation (or both) is correct.

How Well-Motivated is the Symbolism by Observation?

Third, if detriment is interpreted as adding to the symbolism, and alters the interpretation, then its addition should make sense in the system and it should be well-motivated by chart data. The main idea is that any modifications to the original conventional interpretation should be well-motivated by observation.

Detriment as an Addition to the Symbolic System

I will show that detriment was absent from early Hellenistic astrology. It ahs intimations at the end of that tradition and the early Perso-Arabic tradition which prompted its development. In short, it was a later addition to the symbolic system of sign classifications and types of planetary debility. Additionally, it was a non-superfluous addition. It significantly changes the interpretation of the position.

Non-Superfluous

In early Hellenistic astrology, a place (house or lot) or planet could have its symbolism adversely impacted by a ruler (of any type) in a bad or adversarial configuration, including one in opposition to it. This followed directly from the nature of rulership and configuration without any additional concept, so any reconstructed concept solely for the opposition of a domicile ruler would be superfluous. Unlike the practice of examining the configuration of a ruler, detriment introduces a new set of symbolic concepts.

Detriment is not superfluous because it does not pertain to just the configuration of a ruler affecting the symbolism of the thing ruled. Rather it posits that the domicile ruler itself has its symbolism corrupted or weakened by being positioned in the sign opposite its domicile. In other words, it was a new form of planetary debility, where there was not one before. Additionally, it is typically coupled with a notion of contrariness between the ruler’s of opposing domiciles, which was another new and additional concept not found in early Hellenistic astrology.

Conflicts with Earlier Symbolism

Detriment introduced a new planetary debility and new sense of planetary contrariness that conflict with the symbolism of early Hellenistic astrology. Jupiter and Mercury were actually viewed as “in harmony” by Valens – the opposite of problematically contrary. Mercury and Jupiter were clearly considered fortunate in combination, including in each other’s houses, by Dorotheus, Valens, and Manetho (see link in sentence).

Detriment reversed the fortunate symbolism of this comination. It posited a fundamental conflict between the natures of Jupiter and Mercury. They would be debilitated and have adverse indications in each other’s signs.

Need for a Share of Rulership Rather than Negative Dignity

Early Hellenistic astrologers did not put much of a stress on any sign-based debility. Fall was noteworthy for its symbolism which could be adverse, but there was no detriment condition, and fall was not much stressed. As I have noted, even Mercury in Pisces (its fall) was considered a fortunate placement. Fall’s symbolism became more relevant within the context of specific topical delineations.

Stress was actually placed on whether a planet had some share of rulership in the place where it was. For Ptolemy, the worst condition was a planet that had no form of rulership where it was. Whereas Mars was in triplicity in Taurus and Venus in triplicity in Scorpio in early Hellenistic astrology – places of fortification – these became viewed as extremely “detrimental” positions to the planet with the advent of detriment. Therefore, detriment not only added to but actually reversed the symbolism in significant ways in many cases.

Detriment Lacks Adequate Motivation

In order to separate out the historical facts of detriment’s development from my opinion about its usefulness, I will be treating of detriment’s lack of adequate motivation in a separate article. However, here I wish to highlight three reasons why detriment deserves even more scrutiny than typical astrological concepts. Given these reasons, one should always look elsewhere in the chart for the indication that astrologers too readily try to attribute to detriment.

Development by Telephone

As I will show, the historical development of detriment should raise some eyebrows. It appears to have come about very slowly by way of a series of misconceptions and spurious innovations – i.e. by a game of telephone.  Initial intimations only occurred near the very end of the Hellenistic tradition and were slow to catch on. We can trace the arrival of features of detriment by late Hellenistic and early Perso-Arabic authors rephrasing or mistranslating earlier authors, decontextualizing earlier passages, and adding their own innovations.

Today’s new reconstructions of the concept rest on specious evidence and faulty logic. They also tend to present misleading evidence, such as presenting late compilations as representative of early practice and presenting indications for the opposition in the context of the ruler’s configuration technique as if synonymous with detriment.

Conflicting Symbolism

As noted, detriment doesn’t just introduce new symbolism but its symbolism actually often leads to the opposite interpretation as more traditional symbolism. Together with a greater stress on sign-based debility than found in early astrology, it causes most planets to be interpreted as severely weakened or adversely affected in 1 out of every 4 signs of the chart. It also creates the strange situation of Mercury being doubly debilitated – fall and detriment both – in Pisces, where Mercury was actually associated with benefit by early Hellenistic astrologers.

Increasingly Contrived Interpretation

As most astrologers do not practice truly symbolic astrology, but rather make appeal to astrological factors as some sort of index on occult or psychological causes, astrologers increasingly make detriment mean whatever they want it to mean in any given case.

Does someone have Mars in detriment in their 10th house, yet they are one of the most successful athletes of all time (Muhammed Ali)? Then it must of been due to their having to overcome the debilitation and adversity related to that Mars placement. The detriment was so difficult that they were forced to deal with it and so learned to work with this unfortunate psychological or occult thorn in their side and turn it into success.

The same astrologer may view Hitler’s downfall as due to his Mars, Saturn, and Moon that were in detriment in his chart. But perhaps Ted Turner’s success was due to his own 3 planets in detriment.

Maybe Steven Spielberg’s expensive divorce stellement was due to his Saturn in detriment in the 2nd house. Perhaps Spielberg is also one of the wealthiest directors of all time due to having to “deal with” that difficult Saturn in the 2nd his whole life.

You get the idea. A planet in detriment for such astrologers simultaneously symbolizes adverse circumstances pertaining to what is indicated by the planet, overturn, and possible corruption, while on the other hand also being viewed as if having the possibility of improving or augmenting the indications of the planet.

The actual indications are between found in other areas of the chart which are missed due to the easy ability to spot detriment. Instead, astrologers simultaneously blame every success, failure, fortune, and misfortune related to any of the planet’s significations on it. The ability to read a chart suffers greatly as a result of such symbolic confusion.

Understanding Context

Before assessing the astrological value of detriment, we need to take a closer look at its historical place in the tradition. Let’s look at its presence, or more often absence, in early traditional astrology. We will then need to take a closer look at its early characterization. Its interpretation by modern traditionalists is also worth consideration. Finally, we can arrive at a meaningful analysis of its utility (the subject of a separate article).

This first part of my in-depth exploration of detriment will focus on its historical development. A detriment-like concept is absent from almost all Hellenistic astrology. Remarks at the tail end of the Hellenistic tradition show intimations of the concept. though still unclear.

The early Perso-Arabic tradition is marked by two strains, one lacking detriment and one with it largely taking the place of fall. These come together in the middle of the Perso-Arabic tradition, in the 9th century. At that point, detriment is formally brought into the fold on equal par with fall as a form of sign-based corruption defined in popular introductory texts.

Organization

The goal of this article is to make you better informed regarding the concept of detriment and its role in the practice of Hellenistic and Perso-Arabic astrology, past, present, and future. As detriment is taken to be a key part of the Hellenistic system in many modern works on Hellenistic astrology, we will first consider how and why.

The rest of this introduction is an exploration of the Hellenistic system in a narrow sense, Hellenistic astrology in a broad sense, and how the distinction has often been blurred in a dash toward questionable “reconstructions”.

Where Detriment is and Where It’s Not

The first section details the absence of detriment in the early Hellenistic texts. Next, the second section details the intimations of a detriment-like concept in some works of late Hellenistic astrology which inspired its later development. The third section looks at the slow development of detriment into an important principle in Perso-Arabic astrology. The final section is a critical look at “reconstructions” of detriment. The conclusion provides a concise summary of findings and conclusions.

Those coming to the topic with a background in Hellenistic astrology and/or familiarity with Chris Brennan’s reconstruction of detriment as a Hellenistic concept, may want to first check out the section on reconstructions and my more detailed article on Brennan’s specious evidence for a Hellensitic detriment.

Interpretation of Dignity

The following sections on how individual astrologers used sign-based dignity is meant as an astrological reference on the topic. It is easy for astrologers to present decontextualized passages from random texts, including ones that refer to separate techniques, as if they provide some evidence for detriment. Understanding the lack of detriment involves not just contextualizing such passages and texts, but also an awareness of just how vast and extensive the traditional literature is, how varied approaches to dignity and debility were, and how often astrologers had the explicit opportunity to bring up detriment if they had in fact used it as an interpretive principle (explicit or implicit) but did not.

Why Note Other Types of Sign-Based Conditions?

We will not just consider detriment but also consider how different astrologers interpreted dignity (sign-based rejoicing). Just as it is easy for astrologers to miss the lack of detriment in early texts, it is also easy to miss differences in the interpretation of dignity.

Highlighting these differences accomplishes a couple things. First, it reveals that ambiguity was likely in the early source texts and may be responsible for early variation. Second, it shows how the later tradition tended to amalgamate different interpretations rather than choosing between them. Third, it provides the critical astrologer with a path forward toward clearer and more consistent interpretation, allowing them to choose interpretations that mesh with chart experience and common sense.

A Case Against Detriment

This article on the historical development of detriment forms part of a broader argument against the use of detriment in astrology. My own experience is that traditional astrologers would do well to simply dismiss detriment. Knowledge regarding its history is one of three major premises for its dismissal.

The other two premises are addressed in Part II. The second of the three premises is that detriment leads to a different interpretive outcome, overloading the zodiac with “weak” or “bad” indications. The third is that the value of detriment has not been adequately demonstrated, rather it tends to be used in a manner that obscures more important and more traditional factors.

Is Detriment Necessary?

After considering how detriment was not a necessary ingredient in most Hellenistic and Persian analysis, we can consider whether it is necessary today. In Part II (forthcoming), we will consider the interpretive issues pertaining to detriment. Both Medieval and modern interpretations will be considered. Does the concept of “detriment” bring something additional and new to the table? Does it aid in interpretation or handicap it?

How well motivated is detriment by chart data? Does the additional “meaning” supplied by detriment show up at the activation of planets in detriment or more traditional interpretations of the position instead? Has the value of detriment as an interpretive concept really been demonstrated? One consideration is the methodology for testing out competing interpretations of chart symbolism.

About the Hellenistic System

Before surveying the astrologers, there is one additional introductory matter that is worth addressing. It concerns the merits of “reconstructing” a Hellenistic system when Hellenistic astrological techniques were often so clearly and extensively laid out in numerous lengthy astrological manuals.

When we speak of Hellenistic astrology, there are two important senses. There is the Hellenistic system in a narrow sense and Hellenistic astrology in a broad sense. The narrow sense refers to a set of core principles found in the foundational texts that established a common system. The broad sense refers to every development, technique, and principal advanced by Hellenistic astrologers during the period of its practice (roughly 2nd century BCE to 7th century CE). In other words, we distinguish the common foundation from the vast body of knowledge. It’s an important distinction, so let’s give it some consideration.

The System

Hellenistic astrology in the narrow sense comprises the set of interconnected concepts found in the foundational texts. The early surviving works of Hellenistic astrology all draw upon a common system laid out in the now-lost foundational texts.

It was not necessarily fully laid out in any single one of these foundational texts. There is in fact some evidence that there was variance in interpretation for even such basic things as house meanings among different foundational texts. Yet, the early source texts established a foundation for the Hellenistic astrologers.

The “system” was a new synthesis that drew upon prior traditions, especially Babylonian and Egyptian ones. Some key features are an interpretive stress on the Ascendant, the use of signs and their divisions, as well as planets, aspects, and topical places defined by way of lots and house order. This system also included planetary rulership, rejoicing, and debility conditions.

Hellenistic Astrology

The broad sense of Hellenistic astrology pertains to all astrological practices in the Greco-Roman tradition relying upon the system noted above, until roughly the 7th century CE. Most (but not all) of the important works were written in Greek and drew upon earlier texts written in Greek.

Hellenistic is here used primarily as a linguistic, and to a lesser extent cultural, descriptor rather than an ethnic, geographic, or political one. Yet, the period is roughly that of the (western) Roman Empire from about the 1st century BCE to about the time of the last gasps of the Roman Senate in the 7th century CE. The location is also the Roman Empire (both western and eastern), where Latin and Greek were the languages of scholarship. Therefore, Greco-Roman astrology is another term sometimes used.

The works of Hellenistic astrology are incredibly rich and diverse. This sense of Hellenistic astrology, the broad sense, is very broad. It is not a system per se, but rather a huge and diverse body of knowledge. Astrologers emphasized different applications of astrology, different preferred techniques, and at times even contrasting interpretations of symbolism.

Mischaracterizations of the System

In the recent resurgence of interest in Hellenistic astrology, the difference has often been obscured between the narrow and broad senses of Hellenistic astrology. Tenuous reconstructions and assumptions have led to much confusion. I frequently encounter those who believe that things found in one early author, or no early author at all, are representative of the “system”  – i.e. the foundational system in a narrow sense.

We must keep in mind that the multiple early authors drawing on the foundational texts are our best source for what is in those early texts. By comparing authors who drew on those texts we can reach our safest conclusions regarding the core system of Hellenistic astrology.

The Inevitable Mismatch

A mismatch between the systems of modern astrologers following in the Hellenistic tradition and the Hellenistic system in the narrow sense is not at all concerning. Every astrologer has their own preferred techniques and interpretive approaches. Even the Hellenistic astrologers differed a great deal from one another in the way that they used and expanded upon the system.

In the broader sense, there are a variety of Hellenistic astrologies. Exposure to different sources, various routes of learning, personal preferences, and experience as to what is most effective make such a situation inevitable.

This is the very reason we must make the distinction between the narrow sense and the broad sense in the first place. Hellenistic astrology is very broad. It was one of the richest periods in astrological history. Every Hellenistic astrologer took the core system in a slightly different direction. Hellenistic astrologers stressed somewhat different preferred techniques and principles. Sometimes they even slightly differed in their interpretations of core factors. The core is quite small compared with the flowering during the period.

The Mismatch of Concern

What is more concerning is the confusion between popular approaches to incorporating Hellenistic astrology today and the narrow sense of the Hellenistic system. This confusion typically results from a claim of “reconstruction” of the original system which has questionable ingredients. Such questionable reconstructions represent certain features as core which are not. Simultaneously, other approaches and techniques, including the rest of the bulk of Hellenistic astrology, are taken to be more marginal.

Over-Specification and Mischaracterization

On the one hand, this mismatch mischaracterizes and over-specifies the core Hellenistic system. Late additions, rare fine distinctions, and predictive techniques evident in just one or no early author are mistaken for the defining features of the core system. In other words, we find ourselves in a position in which the astrology of a handful of modern individuals is taken to be representative, despite textual evidence to the contrary.

Again, I do not mean to imply that modern uses of Hellenistic astrology should reflect the system in a narrow sense. No, there never was a “pure” Hellenistic astrologer who used only the system in a narrow sense. Therefore, we cannot expect to find a modern astrologer who has rediscovered the way to stick only to the pure “core” system of Hellenistic astrology common to every Hellenistic astrologer.

However, we can avoid representing our own approach to Hellenistic astrology as a reconstruction of the true system. We can also avoid misrepresenting certain techniques and principles as widespread and ubiquitous in Hellenistic astrology when such claims are not supported by textual evidence. In other words, there’s something to be said for avoiding official-sounding tenuous reconstructions resting on flimsy or faulty evidence.

Marginalization

The mismatch also obscures the diversity and richness of Hellenistic astrology in the broad sense. The absence of a certain fine distinction, predictive technique, late interpretive addition, or other such things in the approach of any given popular modern advocate of Hellenistic astrology is taken as a sign that something is not Hellenistic astrology proper. This is a direct byproduct of a lack of sufficient education in the diversity and richness in the tradition. Valuable alternative techniques, approaches, factors, and principles of Hellenistic astrology are overlooked or seen to be more marginal.

We find ourselves in the paradoxical situation in which the astrology of today’s Hellenistic astrologers is viewed as closer to the core Hellenistic astrology than that of the actual early Hellenistic astrologers of the first few hundred years of its practice. In other words, today’s astrologers who do Hellenistic astrology differently are marginalized, as well as the bulk of the actual astrology of the Hellenistic era.

Modern Systems and Ancient Systems

It is, therefore, critical to distinguish the Hellenistic system as reflected in those early texts from Hellenistic astrology in the broad sense. Reconstructions of the Hellenistic astrological system have been proposed. These draw upon Hellenistic astrology and are indeed systems in their own right. Also, they are indeed Hellenistic astrology, drawing on the ancient symbolism and techniques. They reflect the way particular astrologers think the astrological system of interpretation should function.

Regardless of potential practical merits, whether they reflect the actual system of Hellenistic astrology (narrow sense) must be measured against the evidence from the early texts. This is vital to distinguish what today’s astrologers find valuable in Hellenistic astrology from the actual core of the Hellenistic astrological system.

Two Obvious Examples

There are two areas in which the mismatch between the Hellenistic system and the Hellenistic reconstruction is particularly evident. The most pervasive is the suggestion that the configurational subtleties of Antiochus represent the heart of the Hellenistic system. The most obviously flawed is the inclusion of detriment or a detriment-like concept as part of the Hellenistic system.

The Aspect Doctrine of Antiochus

In the last couple of decades, the nuanced aspect doctrine of Antiochus of Athens has become synonymous with the Hellenistic system. The Thesaurus of Antiochus was paraphrased in multiple works, including those attributed to Porphyry (3rd century) and Rhetorius (6th or 7th century), as well as in a Byzantine summary. These works tend to include material not pertaining to Antiochus as well, but in their overlap, they reveal much about the Antiochus text. Porphyry’s 3rd century “Introduction to the Tetrabiblos” is particularly representative. This is because of its early date and the fact that the Antiochus material makes up the bulk of the work.

The intrigue of the text lies in its aspect doctrine which is a bit more methodical, detailed, and well-defined than typical. Many ancient Hellenistic astrologers would note the importance of the placement of a ruler, the nature of aspects, or the greater influence of a right-sided aspect. However, in this work, technical terms are used for more specific configurations. There are valuable distinctions, yet some not made or even mentioned by other Hellenistic astrologers. Many, however, follow naturally from the nature of aspect and rulership.

Useful Extension?

There are two distinct possibilities for the larger neglect of many of Antiochus’s technical distinctions by other Hellenistic astrologers.

First, Antiochus, or a school of which he was part, developed some of the core symbolic concepts into a few more refined distinctions.  This is the most likely scenario as Antiochus is typically dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century CE.

The lack of mention of some of these distinctions in early works, like those of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens would point to a lack of their definition in the foundational texts. While some astrologers put Antiochus much earlier in time, the lack of mention of his work in the early astrologers renders this assertion questionable. References to his work start to crop up in the late 3rd century.

There is also a general tendency toward greater “systematicity” and “refinement” over time. For instance, in later Perso-Arabic astrology many astrologers gave numbered lists defining all possible types of combinations and conditions. By comparison, early Hellenistic astrologers often complained about the opacity of the foundational texts.

If he was paraphrasing some key foundational text, then why didn’t the other early astrologers also refer to it? Rather, many of the distinctions follow from the combination of more common ones, showing a tendency toward greater “systematicity” and “elaboration” by Antiochus himself.

Or Foundational Key?

The second possibility is that these were key technical distinctions present in the foundational texts and pivotal to the system. Perhaps they were even distinctions made by the “inventor of Hellenistic astrology”. They were simply neglected or taken for granted in the works of early Hellenistic astrologers. Unfortunately, this other possibility has become the predominant view in the modern community of astrologers using Hellenistic techniques.

In other words, the configurations of Antiochus have become “orthodox” and “integral”. Other early Hellenistic astrologers are assumed to be using configurations with implicit knowledge of this orthodox and integral set of doctrines. However, this assumption is lacking sufficient evidence. Other astrologers don’t appear to use some of the distinctions in the Antiochus text. They also use other distinctions in a manner that reflects a difference in interpretation.

The Legacy of Robert Schmidt

Today, you are not seen to be practicing “real” Hellenistic astrology unless you are practicing something sufficiently similar to Robert Schmidt’s approach to Hellenistic astrology. The stress on the aspect doctrine of Antiochus, as well as on a particular predictive technique discussed only by Vettius Valens (Zodiacal Releasing), are hallmarks of his approach.

Robert Schmidt was one of the founding members of Project Hindsight. His translations of Hellenistic texts and his ideas regarding Hellenistic astrology had a profound influence on its practice today. Many of today’s leading proponents of Hellenistic astrology (e.g. Chris Brennan, Demetra George) were students of Schmidt.

It is little wonder that his preferred techniques and interpretive principles, i.e. his system, is synonymous with Hellenistic astrology today. For many astrologers, learning Hellenistic astrology meant trying to learn what Robert Schmidt saw in the chart. Without seeking to diminish the greatness of Schmidt’s influence, the time has come to reassess the view that Schmidt’s system was representative of the Hellenistic system in the narrow sense.

A Distinction, Not a Value Judgment

This consideration is quite a different one than the assessment of the utility of Schmidt’s input and preferences, i.e. the value of his system. The distinction cannot be overstated. I’m not judging the value or even the traditional-ness of Schmidt’s system. It is a practice of Hellenistic astrology, just as much as the astrology that I practice.

Many, myself included, have found Schmidt’s output on the art immensely valuable. I, and many others, view the aspect doctrine of Antiochus as a source of vital, valuable, and very helpful (though somewhat superfluous) symbolic distinctions when evaluating configurations. The popularity of zodiacal releasing today as a predictive technique is also a testament to its usefulness. Schmidt keyed the world into the importance of these items from Hellenistic astrology and focused a lot of attention on their interpretation.

Not the Inevitable Approach

His approach doesn’t, however, follow inevitably from the careful study of Hellenistic astrology. As noted, many approaches are possible. The early Hellenistic astrologers themselves were closer to the now lost source material than we’ll ever be. It is clear that they themselves took it in different directions. Whether Schmidt uncovered and reconstructed the core system underlying Hellenistic astrology (the System of Hermes as it is sometimes called) is quite questionable.

Detriment as an Anti-Rejoicing Condition

The more obvious mismatch between the Hellenistic system in the narrow sense and today’s reconstructions is the modern inclusion of “detriment”. This is the imposition of a concept that none of the major treatises of Hellenistic astrology of about the first 500 years make mention of. It is a clear instance in which a concept “developed” late in the Hellenistic period (arguably in the Perso-Arabic period). Unfortunately, it has been “reconstructed” as part of the Hellenistic system.

Additionally, unlike the Antiochus configuration doctrines and the use of Zodiacal Releasing in predictive work, “detriment” is of much more questionable utility. The fact that a concept absent from early Hellenistic astrology and of questionable practical merit could be reconstructed as integral to the system should throw up serious red flags to any thinking astrologer. Its reconstruction should serve as an important signpost calling into question all the reconstructions which include it, and the methodology behind them.

Movement Toward Transparency

In nearly all modern introductory works on Hellenistic astrology, detriment has simply been given as an integral part of the system. The book “Hellenistic Astrology” by Chris Brennan represents a contrast, at least in respect to clarity and transparency. He noted the peculiar absence of “detriment” in early Hellenistic astrology in his book. Prior to completing that section of the book, he also solicited opinion as to how he should treat the concept of detriment.

Unfortunately, Brennan did still “reconstruct” detriment as a technical concept of Hellenistic astrology. Furthermore, he asserted that it is implicit as an interpretive principle even in early texts that lack it. However, he does at least clarify his basis for such a reconstruction. Still, the “reconstruction” and the language explaining it again convey the impression that the distinction is somehow “integral” to Hellenistic astrology. Later in this article, I’ll examine the basis of his reconstruction in more detail (see a separate recent article for a refutation of more recent arguments with a collection of specious evidence he’s put forward for reconstruction).

The Conspicuous Absence

Many of the early Hellenistic astrologers noted the relevant sign-based planetary conditions, such as exaltation and fall. From their treatments of the sign-based planetary conditions, it becomes clear that the concept of detriment was simply not a part of the Hellenistic astrological system. Reconstructing a technical concept that simply was not there is rather strange. Furthermore, we can trace detriment’s very slow entrance into western astrology.

These facts are obscured when detriment shows up as a key distinct concept of the Hellenistic system in most, if not all, modern treatments. Additionally, knowledge of one of the most interesting facets of Hellenistic astrology is suppressed. Detriment was not part of the Hellenistic system in the narrow sense and was a concept almost wholly absent from all practice of Hellenistic astrology, with only intimations at the very end of the period. Additionally, it was not even initially an integral part of Perso-Arabic astrology but became so over centuries.

Part I: The Development of Detriment

Rulership and Dignity

The notable Hellenistic astrologers of the first 4 centuries CE drew directly on and developed from, the foundational texts of horoscopic astrology. These texts (mainly those attributed to Hermes, Asclepius, Nechepso, and Petosiris) are thought to date to the 1st or 2nd centuries BCE.

Most of the surviving early texts on Hellenistic astrology clearly defined the system of sign-based rulership and rejoicing conditions. By sign-based rulership and rejoicing conditions I mean the way that a sign could be said to be linked to its ruling planets, and to strengthen or weaken, make better or worse, the indications of the planets within it. Today, these conditions are referred to respectively as rulership and dignity.

What is Detriment?

Detriment-like concepts appeared near the end of the practice of Hellenistic astrology. The best evidence for it emerges around the 6th or 7th century CE. The detriment concept eventually became a formalized part of the dignity system of Perso-Arabic astrology but after some time.

The concept is that a planet is weakened or corrupted in any sign opposite one of its domiciles. For instance, since the Moon’s domicile is Cancer, her detriment would be Capricorn. Similarly, since Gemini is a domicile of Mercury, Sagittarius would be his detriment.

List of All the Planetary Detriments

The list of all such positions is below:

  1. The Sun is in detriment in Aquarius
  2. The Moon is in detriment in Capricorn
  3. Mercury is in detriment in Sagittarius and Pisces
  4. Venus is in detriment in Aries and Scorpio
  5. Mars is in detriment in Taurus and Libra
  6. Jupiter is in detriment in Gemini and Virgo
  7. Saturn is in detriment in Cancer and Leo
Initial Intimations

The early intimations of a detriment-like concept show up around the 5th-7th century CE. The broad date range will become clearer when we trace its entrance below. When it does arrive it is described in language translated as opposing, contrariety, hindering, or corrupting. As we’ll see, one issue in the early intimations is distinguishing a condition of planetary debility from a simple oppositional configuration of a ruler. Given later development into a planetary debility, there is a tendency to project that interpretation backward.

By Other Names

Detriment sometimes appeared in the 8th and 9th century CE Perso-Arabic astrology as “fall”. Occasionally, this “fall” by opposition to domicile was even used instead of the usual concept of fall (opposite to exaltation).

It was recently described as “adversities”, as well as “exile”, and later “antithesis”, by Chris Brennan, a traditional astrologer who specializes in Hellenistic astrology. My experience is that exile is gaining popularity as a term for the concept among many contemporary astrologers utilizing Hellenistic techniques. Ironically, “exile” is the most problematic of the terms. It is the only proposed term that lacks any valid support from the intimations appearsing in the texts attributed to the late Hellenistic astrologer Rhetorius (i.e. no Hellenistic astrologer, not even Rhetorius, would have recognized it).

Detriment as a Term will Do

“Detriment” remains the most common English term for the concept. It is not an integral Hellenistic concept per se, but it was inspired by Rhetorius’s comments on the contrary qualities of opposed rulers. Additionally, Rhetorius noted how contrary qualities lead to bad indications when combined, bringing in the concept of corruption by contrariety. Detriment actually pretty adequately captures the early conceptualization.

Perso-Arabic authors like al-Andarzaghar, who were drawing on Rhetorius, likened it to unhealthiness, harm, or bad results. Things that are unhealthy, harmful, or cause bad results, are “detrimental”. Thus the term for the concept has not strayed too far from the concept’s origins.

Dignity in Hellenistic Astrology

The sign-based rulership and rejoicing conditions are one of the innovations of Hellenistic astrology. Hellenistic astrology provided the foundation for traditional and modern western astrology, as well as Indian horoscopic astrology. As the “original system” of horoscopic astrology, its particulars and the works of its early practitioners are of particular interest to astrologers and historians.

One of the concepts in the system was that of considering certain planets to be strengthened (or even weakened) in certain signs and sections of signs (dignity and debility). Let’s turn our attention to that facet of the system.

Strengthening and Weakening

In Hellenistic astrology there are four sign-based conditions that are particularly strengthening to planets, making their indications more “effective”, “fortified”, or simply better. These conditions pertain to a planet in part of a sign it is said to rule in some way. A planet in a sign that is its domicile (home), exaltation, or triplicity is reinforced or supported in some way. When in its own section of a sign, called its bound, it is also fortified.

Additionally, there is one sign for each planet where the planet is said to be weakened or lowered, called its depression or fall. The depression is the sign located opposite the sign of a planet’s exaltation. Ptolemy (2nd century CE) also noted an additional weakening condition that is related to the concept of “peregrine”. For him, a planet that was not in a position where the sign gave some support (i.e. not in its domicile, exaltation, triplicity, or bound) was corrupted, particularly if the sign was also of the contrary sect.

Detriment or Support: A Delineation Dilemma

Note that there was no concept of planetary weakening or corruption associated with being opposite a planet’s domicile (i.e. in detriment). Furthermore, many of the places where planets are now said to be in detriment, are actually traditional places of support. These positions, where the planet is in a sign of its triplicity and sect, include the Moon in Capricorn, Venus in Scorpio, Mars in Taurus, Jupiter in Gemini, and Saturn in Leo.

The five non-luminaries can additionally be supported in the sign of their so-called “detriment” by being in their own bound

Detriment’s adoption has a significant effect on the delineation of certain planetary positions. For instance, does Mars in Taurus represent a suppression of Mars (detriment) or an enhancement (triplicity and sect)?

Contrariety Displaced from Alien Signs to those Opposite Domiciles

I will show how a Ptolemaic approach played a big role in the intimations of detriment in Rhetorius, which in turn inspired its development. For Ptolemy the planet was strengthened by sympathy but weakened by contrary qualities. However, for Ptolemy the sign opposite the domicile could have sympathies, such as triplicity as noted. The weakening conflict was being in a position where there was no rulership (an alien or peregrine sign).

Section 1: Detriment’s Absence from Early Hellenistic Astrology

Chris Brennan, an authority on Hellenistic astrology, has noted that detriment is absent from early Hellenistic astrology (2017, p. 249).

“In most of the introductory Hellenistic texts, while they clearly define the concepts of domicile, exaltation, and depression, there is no corresponding definition of “detriment,” which raises some questions about how the position was viewed, and whether it was conceptualized as a debilitating factor or not.” (Brennan, 2017, p. 249)

It was also absent from standard traditions of Indian astrology today. Its absence from standard Indian astrology is interesting as Indian astrology assimilated Hellenistic doctrines by at least the 6th century. This implies it was not in the early Hellenistic astrology that reached India. It was actually similarly absent from most early Perso-Arabic astrology, which was primarily an outgrowth of Hellenistic astrology.

The clear absence of the concept from early Hellenistic astrology does raise the question of interpretation of the opposition to domicile, as noted by Brennan. However, it also raises other important questions. Where did the detriment distinction come from? How appropriate is it to consider it an important part of the Hellenistic system? Additionally, how did detriment simply come to be assumed today to be part of the Hellenistic system?

6th or 7th Century Appearance

Brennan noted that there was no clear definition of “detriment” as a negative factor until the text of Rhetorius. Rhetorius wrote a compendium of Hellenistic astrology in the 6th or 7th century CE. He wrote after the heyday of Hellenistic astrology (see Brennan, 2017, Ch. 5 on the concurrent decline of both astrology and the western Roman empire). In fact, Rhetorius is considered the very last major astrologer of the Hellenistic tradition (Brennan, 2017, p. 121).

I actually disagree with the assertion that a planetary debility associated with detriment was even clearly defined in Rhetorius. However, we’ll come back to Rhetorius later. What about the astrologers before him?

Who Didn’t Use Detriment?

As noted, it’s easier to notice something there than to notice something missing. The influential texts of the early Hellenistic tradition make no mention of detriment.

Important early Hellenistic astrologers, including Dorotheus of Sidon, Vetius Valens, Claudius Ptolemy, Porphyry (and thus Antiochus), Paulus Alexandrinus, Julius Firmicus Maternus, and more, didn’t use “detriment”.  Was their astrology missing a vitally important distinction? Did they just forget to mention the debility of a position opposite the domicile?

Let’s look at what Hellenistic astrologers actually said about sign-based rejoicing and debility. This is instructive not just for seeing the lack of detriment, and tracing its arrival, but also for understanding the varying early approaches to dignity.

Dorotheus of Sidon on Sign-Based Conditions

Dorotheus was an influential 1st century astrology who wrote a large work in verse on the principles of astrology. His work was one of the most influential texts of early Hellenistic astrology, with a strong influence on later Hellenistic astrology as well as the Perso-Arabic tradition. The original verse work only survives in fragments quoted by later astrologers, while prose summaries and translations comprise our best sources for the text, albeit ones with apparent additions and corruptions.

Dorotheus (1st century CE) does not appear to have known the distinction of “detriment” or any debility associated with being opposite a planet’s domicile. This is despite the outlining many other types of sign-based rejoicing and noting fall.

Dorotheus did use a technique in which the configuration of a ruler was examined, including the opposition which could give adverse indications. However, this is a very different technique, and has different basis and interpretation than detriment, as it pertains to delineating the thing ruled (not the planetary state of the ruler) and follows from the concepts of configuration and rulership.

Dorotheus on Other Sign-Based Conditions

In Book I, Ch. 1, he first outlined the triplicity lords of the signs. He then also outlined the houses (domiciles) of the planets with no mention of detriment. He noted the planetary joys by signs, which match them to their domiciles of the same sect (and Mercury with Virgo). In the next chapter, Dorotheus noted the exaltation degrees of the planets and that their falls were opposite.

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Dorotheus used bounds throughout the work. The bounds are particularly pivotal to his predictive methodology for longevity.

Powers of the Planets

In a later chapter, Ch. 6 of the 1st book, Dorotheus explained the conditions which affect the power of the planets. Here too there is no mention of “detriment”.

“Every planetary fortune, if it was in its own house, or in its own triplicity or its elevation, then what it indicates of the good will be powerful [and] increasing. And an infortune too, if it was in its own place, then its evil will become lighter and decrease.” (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 6, Dykes trans., 2018, p. 67)

Note that the stress here is really on a planet being in some place that it rules, without any similar stress on negative dignity (i.e. fall) as bad. As we’ll see with Ptolemy, the lack of dignity (lack of any rulership in the planet’s place) tended to be of greater concern for early Hellenistic astrologers than even fall.

Little Stress on Fall

Interestingly, Dorotheus did note some negative conditions, including being out of sect, under the rays, or retrograde, but does not even note “fall” as a weakening condition. He also does not mention “fall” as one of the many corruptions of the Moon for electional astrology (Book V). It was added as a corruption of the Moon in the Middle Ages. However, there are a couple instances in which Dorotheus did distinguish fall as indicating a reduced condition of some sort in analysis.

In short, Dorotheus put a much greater stress on matters other than “fall” when it came to planetary weakening. Cadency, sect, retrogradation, twelfth-part rulership, sign sex, and being under the beams get explicit attention in discussions of planetary corruption. Fall, by contrast, gets defined, but there are only a few stray mentions of it for debility, within the context of certain topics.

Ruler’s Configuration Technique (RC)

Dorotheus presents a few passages in which a technique was used to delineate a place (house or lot), or more rarely the Moon, by examining the configuratoin of its ruler. This technique of examining the ruler’s configuration can be called RC for short. There is evidence for the technique in other early astrologers like Anubio and Valens as well (addressed below), so it probably originated in the foundational texts.

This technique follows from the principles of rulership and configuration so the adversity associated with the opposition does not require a separately reconstructed principle (i.e. it is superfluous). Additionally, the technique differs from the principle of detriment in numerous key ways, as it is not a planetary debility, the potential oppositional indications pertain to the thing ruled not the ruler, other configurations and other types of rulers may be similarly relevant, and there is no implied notion of contrariety in the natures of planets ruling opposing domiciles.

You may find a more complete treatment of RC in my article on Brennan’s recent proposed evidence for reconstruction  of detriment (spoiler: all Brennan’s supposed evidence for early use of detriment is actually RC).

Anubio and the Configuration of Opposition

Anubio is a relatively more minor early Hellenistic astrologer but one worth a mention. He is dated to the first century CE and wrote a work on astrological principles in Greek verse (dactylic hexameter; the same meter used by Homer). Recent scholarship has suggested that he may have drawn on one of the same sources that were also used by Dorotheus, Maternus, and Manetho, as there are some parallel passages across the texts (possibly from Nechepso Petosiris).

A passage attributed to Anubio includes language implying the diminishment of what is provided when a planet opposes its own domicile. Brennan (2020, p. 1) has taken the passage to show the implicit use of detriment in the 1st century. Brennan (2020, p. 2) has also asserted that Hephaistio’s statement about planetary corruption was a paraphrase of Dorotheus. It is assumed that Hephaistion was probably drawing on a passage in Dorotheus that was parallel to that in Anubio.

For a closer look at the passage, see the relevant section of my article on Brennan’s arguments.

Anubio in Context

There are significant issues with taking Anubio as evidence of “detriment”. The context, both textually and historically, argues for an RC interpretation.

The Anubio passage occurs at the end of a section on the configuration of opposition. It is not a section on sign-based conditions, planetary debility types, or anything of that sort. The context is a section explicitly about configurations. Just after discussing indications for the opposition of each planet opposed to each other planet, then we get the statement regarding a ruler opposing the place it rules. Therefore, the context speaks to the passage about the RC technique – examining the rule’s configuration of opposition.

The passage says nothing inconsistent with the RC technique or necessarily implying the additional baggage of detriment (planetary debility and contrariety). The fact that other astrologers drawing on Nechepso-Petosiris, like Dorotheus and Valens, also clearly show the use of RC, but not detriment, again supports that interpretation.

Anubio + Hephaistion as Representative of Dorotheus?

There are also some issues with taking the Hephastion passage as necessarily having its origin in a passage in Dorotheus that is parallel to the one in Anubio.

If Hephaistio was paraphrasing a similar phrase in Dorotheus then this speaks to the view that Hephaistio derived a planetary corruption doctrine by misinterpreting a passage actually about RC (game of telephone again). It doesn’t imply that the original Dorotheus contained the planetary corruption doctrine.

Additionally, Hephaistio’s comments are in the context of solar return interpretation while the Anubio passage is in the context of delineating indications of configurations. It’s not clear why Dorotheus would have paraphrased the same source as Anubio (or Anubio would have paraphrased Dorotheus) in such a different context.

Dorothean Manuscript and Fragments

In any case, no such passage survives in any manuscript or fragments of Dorotheus. Instead, what we do find in both the surviving manuscripts and a Dorothean fragment is a doctrine in which transiting planets in opposition to natal positions give negative indications. That has seemed to me the more plausible passage being garbled in the Hephaistio text. I address this more below in the section on Hephaistio. In either case, it appears Hephaistio (or some later copyist) did transform something from Dorotheus, either an RC passage or a transit configuration one, into a statement about planetary corruption.

Notes on Dorotheus

Dorotheus did put stock in dignity and other rejoicing conditions. However, detriment or a detriment-like concept was not part of Dorotheus’s astrology.

Dorotheus defined domicile, exaltation, fall, triplicity, and bound only. He also used twelfth-part divisions of the sign, which were important for judging the Moon in electional astrology, among other things.

I will return to Dorotheus below when we discuss where detriment came from. The way Hephaistio (5th century CE) summarized Dorotheus on the solar return includes language some have taken to be evident of detriment. Dorotheus took planets opposing their natal positions at the time of the solar return as unfortunate (Book 4, Ch. 4, #3). The material appears to have been paraphrased by Hephaistio as planets opposing their houses are corrupted (Book II, Ch. 27).

Benefic Dignity Interpretation

It is also worth mentioning that Dorotheus was a strong advocate of the interpretation of dignity as “benefic”. He clearly stated that dignity made benefics more benefic and malefics less so. This interpretation is one that I am critical of based on experience. Still, it is important to be aware of different ways that early astrologers interpreted things. They might not all interpret the same configuration the same way. Early interpretations may also fly in the face of assumptions or projections from the later tradition.

I’m equally critical of some other interpretations of common conditions in Dorotheus. For instance, I find his emphasis on angularity of triplicity lords of the sect light for success to be lacking in practice. He also advised that being under the beams was extremely weakening to a planet which has not been my experience. Still, they are part of Dorotheus’s particular approach to the chart.

Detriment, on the other hand, was not part of his approach to the chart. As noted in the introduction, we must distinguish what is good, valuable, or useful in Hellenistic astrology from what individual astrologers do or emphasize in their approaches. We also need to distinguish what is common among early Hellenistic astrologers.

Vettius Valens on Sign-Based Conditions

Vettius Valens (2nd century CE) was a traveling astrologer and teacher who wrote a huge multi-volume Anthology on techniques. He covered a large number of techniques not found elsewhere. His text is the source for most of the surviving chart analyses that we have from the era as it is rich in examples.

Valens didn’t use “detriment” or a detriment-like concept. He didn’t just fail to define it, but attention to it is absent in his numerous example charts.

Valens on Other Sign-Based Conditions

In Book I, Ch. 2, Valens described the signs of the zodiac. He noted there the ruler of most of the houses (domicile). That chapter was followed (Ch. 3) by one on specifying the terms or bounds of each planet.  In Book I, Ch. 11 (12 of Kroll edition), Valens noted the sex of twelfth-part divisions of the signs. Book II starts with a description of the triplicities (Ch. 1). Later, Valens defines exaltation and fall. However, there is no mention of detriment or a detriment-like concept.

Therefore, in Valens we see again a clear account of domicile, exaltation, fall, triplicity, and bound, but not detriment.

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Exaltation and Fall

Valens mentioned the use of the exaltation of the Sun and Moon for finding a Lot of Exaltation used for eminence. He also notes in Book II that it is an ill-omen when the Sun or Moon oppose their exaltation sign or the ruler of the Lot of Exaltation. Exaltations and falls are also used in relation to gains and instability in stature, respectively, in predictive techniques.

We see another stress on the exaltation and the fall of the Lights in the chapter on marriage (Book II, Ch. 38K). Valens does not, however, define the exaltations and depressions (fall) of the planets until Book III, Ch. 4. Valens does use exaltation, house, and triplicity quite extensively in his work. However, he does not define or use a detriment-like concept in which the sign opposite a planet’s domicile is debilitating to it in some way.

Valens’s Interpretation of Dignity

At many points, Valens uses dignity as showing fortification, strength, and stature. For instance, when examining planets that indicate with respect to the parents, he associates dignity, among other rejoicing conditions, as showing high stature.

“Whenever these operative stars are found in their own sects, in their own houses, in their own exaltations, with any benefic in superior aspect (or in fact in aspect at all), and when they do not precede an angle or are not afflicted by any malefic in the place where they rejoice, then these stars indicate that the parents’ affairs will be famous, distinguished, and illustrious. If the star that should indicate parents’ affairs has any malefics in aspect, either by projection of rays or by superior aspect, or if it is found in a place where it does not rejoice, it will indicate lowly and humble parents.” (Valens, Book II, Ch. 32P, Riley trans., 2009, p. 44)

Note that rather than emphasizing a negative dignity (fall), he notes a planet not in a place it rejoices as indicative of low stature. As we’ll see, Ptolemy also noted the corrupting influence of this situation of lacking a rejoicing condition.

Fortification and Stature

Dorotheus emphasized that the conditions increased good or lessened evil. Valens emphasized that the conditions cause the planet to produce its proper effect and to possibly indicate high stature (especially in the case of exaltation). In other words, one astrologer emphasizes a benefic distinction, while the other one of strength and sometimes stature.

For instance, take Valens on the bound ruler being in its own bound below where it is operative but can be so in a bad way. Note that the translation “houseruler” here means the ruler of the bound.

“if the houseruler is located in a given term, the houseruler will produce its proper effect as well, whether good or bad.” (Valens, Book I, Ch. 3, Riley trans., 2009, p. 8)

Exaltation and Fall Complications

Still, in some examples given by Valens, it is hard to disentangle the two interpretations (benefic or strength). This is particularly so as concerns exaltation and fall with respect to stature. For instance, there is an example where a person was exiled during an activation of the Sun (19 years) in fall in Libra and its exaltation Aries (20 years by rising time) occupied by Saturn (also in fall). The exile in the 39th year is thought to be shown by this activation. Is this a negative indication because of “fall” or is it a drop in social standing indicated by fall with particularly negative effects shown by opposition with Saturn?

RC and Opposition

I’ll return to Valens later below when we look at the interpretation of opposing a domicile. There are many remarks that Valens made about RC in his work, often with a stress on the opposition. Brennan has taken a couple of these to be supportive of the use of a detriment-like concept. Taken in context, together with the other similar remarks made by Valens, it becomes clear they are actually indicative of the use of RC with no implication of detriment whatsoever.

Claudius Ptolemy on Sign-Based Conditions

The common interpretation of detriment as involving unhealthy conflicting qualities would seem to be right up Ptolemy’s alley. Ptolemy (2nd century), one of the most influential scientists and polymaths of the ancient world, sought to conceptualize astrology in terms of Aristotelian physics in his massive Tetrabiblos.

The planets could cause changes in the quality of things in the sublunar realm. The combination of the planets with each other and the signs was examined in terms of the harmony or disharmony of their qualities.

These ideas would prove to be influential upon Rhetorius in his comments that inspired the development of detriment. However, Ptolemy had no concept of detriment in his own work.

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A Matter of Qualitative Affinity

For instance, Ptolemy explains rulerships in terms of qualitative affinity.

“The planets also have familiarity with the parts of the zodiac, through what are called their houses, triangles, exaltations, terms, the like. […] Since of the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and of warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries […] For to Saturn, in whose nature cold prevails, as opposed to heat, and which occupies the orbit highest and farthest from the luminaries, were assigned the signs opposite Cancer and Leo, namely Capricorn and Aquarius, with the additional reason that these signs are cold and wintry […]” (Ptolemy, Book I, Ch. 17, Robbins trans., 1940)

The Ptolemaic Aristotelianism Lurking Behind Detriment

While Ptolemy didn’t have the distinction of detriment, his approach to the chart appears to have strongly influenced its development. The Aristotelian approach of Ptolemy suggests that close attention must be paid to the material sympathies between the planet and sign. His explanations of domicile rulerships, and of exaltation and fall, suggest that contrastive qualities underlie oppositions. Also, planets in his approach are strengthened by similarity and weakened by dissimilarity or contrast.

It is easy to see how a Ptolemaic approach to the chart easily lent itself to the creation of a “detriment” distinction on analogy with “fall”. In fact, the language frequently used to describe the “detriment” condition in later Medieval astrology tended to involve notions of corruption and/or unhealthiness. By contrast, exaltation and fall in early Hellenistic astrology revolved around the symbolism of raising up and bringing low. The concept of being unhealthily corrupted or handicapped by the influence of a materially contrastive ruler has, in my mind, Ptolemy’s influence all over it.

Lack of Detriment

Ptolemy doesn’t just explain domiciles in terms of quality but also the triplicities (Ch. 18), as well as the exaltations and the falls (Ch. 19). However, Ptolemy had no concept of detriment. He does not mention any clash of qualities that might result, for instance, from Jupiter being situated in Gemini. Rather, Jupiter is part of the air triplicity, with which it has an affinity. All of these matters are explained in the last half of Book I, which can be read freely online.

Other Divisions and Rejoicing Conditions

Ptolemy also mentioned a couple of different schemes for bound rulership (Ch. 20-21). In terms of twelfth-parts, he noted that some astrologers in his day used them, but he rejects any division he sees as purely symbolic rather than natural.

Interestingly, Ptolemy has an additional concept of “proper face” (start of Ch. 23) which appears to be a type of rejoicing condition. A planet in proper face is in the same aspect to the Sun or Moon as its domicile has with their domiciles. For instance, if Venus is in the 3rd sign from that of the Sun, such as the Sun in Virgo with Venus in Scorpio, then this echoes the arrangement of Leo and Libra. Arguably, he treats this as reinforcing, not unlike a planet in its own house, triplicity, exaltation, or bound.

Ptolemy’s Interpretation of Dignity

As noted, Ptolemy viewed these sign placements (house, exaltation, triplicity, bound, proper face) as reinforcing to the nature of the planet. The planet has a natural similarity or affinity to these areas of the zodiac. This reinforcement causes an increase in power and effectiveness. Therefore, for Ptolemy dignity is primarily a matter of strength and effectiveness, not of benefic or malefic nature.

Beyond Signs

When it comes to Ptolemy’s view of planetary strength, we must note that he considered sign-based conditions to be just one part. This sign-based part is discussed in Chapter 23 of Book I where he has 3 distinct levels of strength: 1. Chariot or throne which is from 2 or more of the rejoicing conditions – this is the greatest increase in effectiveness; 2. Just one sign-based rejoicing condition or at least a sign of the same sect – this is merely rejoicing; 3. An alien sign (peregrine) belonging to the opposite sect – this is paralyzing to the planet’s effectiveness. See his next chapter, Chapter 24, for his other non-sign-based conditions that influence planetary power.

Chariots and Thrones

“They are said to be in their own “chariots” and “thrones” and the like when they happen to have familiarity in two or more of the aforesaid ways with the places in which they are found; for then their power is most increased in effectiveness by the similarity and co-operation of the kindred property of the signs which contain them.” (Ptolemy, Book, Ch. 23, Robbins trans., 1940)

In this passage, it is clear that the greatest “effectiveness” by sign, for Ptolemy, involves 2 or more of his forms of “familiarity”. Note that effectiveness, not goodness, is the interpretation.

Rejoicing

“They say they “rejoice” when, even though the containing signs have no familiarity with the signs [planets] themselves, nevertheless they have it with the stars of the same sect; in this case the sympathy arises less directly. They share, however, in the similarity in the same way;” (Ptolemy, Book, Ch. 23, Robbins trans., 1940; brackets added to correct planets for signs)

In this next set of lines, we find Ptolemy defining “rejoice”. He omits to mention what to call the situation when a planet has only one form of familiarity. I think it is safe to say he intended that to fit into this category as well, or even slightly more powerful than this one. Rather, he states that even when there’s none of the five forms familiarity of the sign to the planet, there still may be familiarity through sect.

Sect Familiarity?

This last condition is somewhat ambiguous. I touched on it in my article on sign sex and sect. Does Ptolemy mean rulership by a sect mate, and if so, what type of rulership? By contrast, does he instead mean the sign is of the same sect as the planet? My interpretation is that he meant a sign of the same sect as the planet. As I noted in my article on sect, sect and triplicity were strongly related notions in ancient astrology, often noted together. Being in a sign of the same sect of the chart would tend to mean rulership by sect mates through triplicity. Ptolemy explicitly defined the signs belonging to each sect in Chapter 12 of Book I. In that sense, diurnal signs are ruled by the diurnal sect.

Still, Porphyry (3rd century) may have taken the other approach (Ch. 4 of his Introduction). In his explanation of the sect of planets he noted that diurnal planets rejoice when in the domiciles of diurnal planets. Therefore, being in the domicile of a sect mate could also be what was intended by Ptolemy as the familiarity of a sign with the sect mates.

Paralysation

“on the contrary, when they are found in alien regions belonging to the opposite sect, a great part of their proper power is paralysed, because the temperament which arises from the dissimilarity of the signs produces a different and adulterated nature.” (Ptolemy, Book, Ch. 23, Robbins trans., 1940; brackets added)

The worst sign-based situation for Ptolemy is being peregrine while in a region belonging to the opposite sect. Ptolemy did note planetary depressions (fall) in his earlier discussion of different forms of rulership but doesn’t bring it up here so its effect on “power” is unclear. One may presume it would have a “depressing” effect on planetary power, but its not clear. Perhaps it just brings along the brought low symbolism of fall as a possiblity ripe for activation. Again, note that “detriment” or something like it is not in Ptolemy’s vocabulary.

Note on Reinforcement

Ptolemy made one thing very clear. Dignity is fundamentally about reinforcement of planetary nature, which pertains to effectiveness and power. This is consistent with the comments Valens made about bounds but differs considerably from a view of dignity as benefic (Dorotheus).

Views of dignity pertaining to strength and planetary prominence, including my own views on dignity, are consistent with this interpretation. Other things in common between Ptolemy and Valens are their stress on many other conditions for planetary strength and the emphasis on the lack of a rejoicing condition as particularly weakening. More obviously, neither they, nor Dorotheus, used detriment.

Note on Level vs. Weighted Dignity and Influence

Another thing to consider with Ptolemy is that he put the different rejoicing conditions roughly on the same level. A planet in its exaltation, such as Jupiter in Cancer, could just have one form of familiarity, making it a middling position. By contrast, Jupiter in Gemini in its own bound, while the Sun is in Aquarius (Jupiter in proper face), has 3 forms of familiarity, a very powerful form of Jupiter in its chariot. This contrasts with typical dignity usage today in a lot of ways.

Similarly, Ptolemy also considered the influence of planets on points by rulership and aspect in an equal rather than weighted sort of fashion. A predominator or predominators would have more forms of influence. For instance, a bound ruler of a planet that aspects that planet would be considered more influential than an exaltation ruler with no aspect and no other form of rulership. One is influential in two ways, while the other in just one. However, late medieval astrologers would assign exaltation an influence of 4 points, bound only 2, and aspect and proper face none.

It is vitally important to understand how ancient astrologers actually used principles like dignity and predomination. They often differed in opinions, so projection of current or even medieval practices backward tend to cloud the understanding of Hellenistic astrology.

Antiochus and Porphyry on Sign-Based Rejoicing Conditions

Antiochus of Athens was an influential astrologer typically placed in the 1st or 2nd century CE. His most important work, the Thesaurus, is survived by paraphrases and summaries in later works. Apparently the earliest and most notable of these works referencing The Thesaurus is “Introduction to the Tetrabiblos”, attributed to the 3rd-century philosopher Porphyry. A large portion of the work is a summary of Antiochus.

Porphyry’s summary of Antiochus lacks any mention of a detriment-like condition. Additionally, the portions of the late works, such as Rhetorius, which draw from Antiochus also don’t show evidence of a detriment-like concept in those sections which apparently paraphrase Antiochus. Therefore, there is no evidence of the use of a detriment like concept by Antiochus or Porphyry.

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Textual Issues

The surviving text of Porphyry is not a perfect representation of Antiochus though. First of all, it is a later manuscript which has had some material from 8th-century Persian astrologer Sahl Bin Bishr added to the end of it. Second, it is intended as an aid to understanding Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, not as a faithful reproduction of Antiochus. It is difficult to determine what may have come from other astrologers or may have been altered. Porphyry mentioned Antiochus only once in the work, and rather late, in Chapter 38.

The 6th or 7th-century astrologer, Rhetorius the Egyptian, also summarized large swaths of Antiochus in his huge Compendium. Therefore, one approach to Antiochus has been to compare Rhetorius with Porphyry, and both to a later Byzantine summary of Antiochus, in order to confirm contents. Of course, one issue is that the later summaries of Antiochus could also have been drawing on paraphrases of Porphyry attributed to Antiochus. There is a greater propensity to preserve and pass on work purportedly by Porphyry, an important Neoplatonic philosopher, than of a rather obscure astrologer little quoted in early Hellenistic astrology (Antiochus).

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Detriment in the Modern Hellenistic System

Robert Schmidt published a reconstruction of Antiochus’s Thesaurus in 1993, but the work was primarily a translation of Rhetorius, containing numerous additions not found in the Porphyry text. Some of those additions include references to later astrologers. More troubling are additions not found in Porphyry at all, including detriment.

Antiochus was taken as very closely representative of the Hellenistic system in the narrow sense by Schmidt. By considering Rhetorius to be close to Antiochus and Antiochus as close to the core system, the community ended up with a situation in which Rhetorius became representative of Hellenistic astrology in the narrow sense.

In other words, ostensibly the approach of the “last” major Hellenistic astrologer became taken as representative of the nature of the earliest core system. It is my opinion, that this is the source of the idea or assumption that “detriment” has always been a significant part of Hellenistic astrology. It is in Schmidt’s questionable early “reconstruction” of Antiochus.

Issues with Rhetorius

As I noted earlier, Rhetorius was at the very end of the Hellenistic tradition. He did preserve many ideas and practices from early Hellenistic astrologers. However, there was also the addition of new concepts. As Rhetorius’s text had a very significant impact on Perso-Arabic astrology, especially in the realm of horary, this development also made it easy to project later medieval astrology backward, as the way things were always done.

A contrastive opinion on Rhetorius is presented by Chris Brennan. He has noted that Rhetorius evidently rewrote a lot of the Antiochus material. In comparisons between the three texts, Rhetorius is typically the one at the greatest variance.

“He seems to have rewritten many of the definitions, in some instances to attempt to clarify the ambiguity in certain definitions, while in others in order to update them and bring them more in line with contemporary terminology and usage in the later part of the Hellenistic astrological tradition. As a result of the revisions, Rhetorius’ versions of the definitions are often at a variance with the one that appear in the Summary and in Porphyry, although in some instances they are still useful for clarifying earlier and later practices.” (Brennan, 2017, p. 86)

Porphyry as a Source

As noted, Schmidt initially took Rhetorius to be closest to Antiochus, despite the late date of Rhetorius. This was because, as Robert Hand noted in the introduction to their reconstruction, Rhetorius seemed to have copied the most. Rhetorius’s work was voluminous. However, it was not voluminous because he copied more Antiochus than anybody else. Rather, he was compiling quite a lot from different astrologers, together with his own ideas, into a compendium.

We will be taking Porphyry’s text as more representative of Antiochus. This is because the bulk of it pertains to the definitions of the Thesaurus and Porphyry was much closer in time, relatively unburdened by many of later developments in Hellenistic astrology. I will compare with Rhetorius though, indicated by a P for Porphyry’s chapter number and an R for the corresponding chapter of Rhetorius.

Rejoicing Conditions in Antiochus

Antiochus defined the domiciles (5P, 8R), as well as the exaltations and falls (6P, 7R). Interestingly, Porphyry noted that the exaltations have an aspectual rational. By contrast, Rhetorius explained the rationale at length as instead pertaining to symbolic contrasts between the signs a planet is exalted and in fall (probably following Ptolemy). We will return to this later, as Rhetorius followed the exaltation/fall passage with a similar one on houses and their opposites, clearly inspired by the exaltation/fall contrast. Still, even Rhetorius did not define a concept like “detriment” at that point in his work.

Bounds and triplicities are referred to in the Porphyry excerpts but not clearly defined. Rhetorius did explicitly define the triplicities (9R) but not the bounds. Both explore the decans (47P, 10R) and the twelfth-parts (39P, 18R).

Lack of Detriment

There is no detriment-like concept in Porphyry, indicative of the lack of that concept in Antiochus.

Actually, the concept is also lacking in the summary of Antiochus’s definitions by Rhetorius. Rhetorius only added material pertaining to how the nature of the ruler of the domiciles of the planets can be considered to “opposite” the nature of the ruler of the opposite sign, in parallel with the rationale he (Rhetorius, not Antiochus) gave for exaltation/fall. He did not give the sign opposite to the domicile a special label or define it as an anti-rejoicing condition here though. That happens instead in a different text, the summary of Teucer of Babylon on the nature of the signs, which has been attributed to Rhetorius.

Therefore, there is no evidence for detriment or a detriment-like concept in Antiochus (1st or 2nd century) or Porphyry (3rd century). There are intimations of it in Rhetorius (6th or 7th century). However, even in Rhetorius, detriment is not defined as a concept in his main text but rather in the other text attributed to him, a summary of Teucer of Babylon.

Interpretation of Dignity

In Antiochus (and Porphyry), dignity is interpreted as pertaining primarily to planetary power, as with Ptolemy, and to some extent Valens.

“Stars are said to be in their own chariots whenever they are posited in their own domicile or triplicity or exaltation and [are also] in their own terms. And a star will also be most powerful thus, even if it has come under the Sunbeams, for [then] it is even more powerful.” (Porphyry, Ch. 25, Holden trans., 2009, p. 19-20)

Ambiguous Chariot Wording

There has been some question about the accuracy of the added “are also” in the English translation, as it appears that it was a list of various conditions that could make for a “chariot” rather than restricted to being in addition to bound placement. In fact, in the translation of Rhetorius it is “or” terms rather than “and are also in their” terms (43R). In either case, as with Ptolemy, being in one’s “chariot” means an increase in the power of the planet in some sense.

Weakened Powers

Fall is the only negative sign-based condition noted (6P) and it pertains to power rather than maleficence.

“And the signs opposite the exaltations are their falls, in which they have weaker powers.” (Porphyry, Ch. 6, Holden trans., 2009, p. 10)

Malefic/Benefic Rulership

I think it is important to note that for the terms and domicile, a major consideration in Porphyry is whether the ruler is benefic or malefic. The benefic or malefic nature of the ruler of a planet’s term and sign were said to alter the quality of the planet for better or worse along benefic/malefic lines (see P49).

Porphyry explicitly considered being in the domicile and bound of a benefic especially good, and of a malefic especially bad. Therefore, there is a sense in which sign-based dignity is reinforcing to the power of the planet, for good or ill, while the benefic or malefic nature of the planet and its rulers alters the benefic/malefic quality. Again, this contrasts with the Dorothean interpretation where sign-based rejoicing makes planetary indications more benefic.

Paulus Alexandrinus on Sign-Based Rejoicing Conditions

Paulus Alexandrinus was a notable Hellenistic astrologer of the 4th century CE. He composed his “Introductory Matters” in 378 CE.

Paulus clearly defined a variety of forms of rulership, as well as the concept of fall. He did not, however, have any concept of detriment, or the like. This is significant as he is in the 4th century, possibly 500 years removed from the foundational texts. He is already often quoting secondary sources like Ptolemy. He is an astrologer who carefully defined a large number of concepts but had no sense of “detriment” as a distinct concept whatsoever, let alone an important principle of interpretation.

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Sign-Based Conditions in Paulus

In the 2nd chapter of the work, he describes the signs of the zodiac. The description includes which planets have their domicile, exaltation, fall, and triplicity (only the first two rulers) in each sign. In the next chapter (3), Paulus outlined the bounds.  After that (in Ch. 4), Paulus outlined the decans, then the monomoiria (rulership of individual degrees; Ch. 5). Later, he defined a variety of sympathies between signs, as well as his idiosyncratic form of twelfth-parts (Ch. 22).

Interpretation in Paulus

It is hard to get a good sense of the way that Paulus interpreted a planet being in a sign or bound that it ruled, or conversely being in fall. He noted the distinctions but does not clearly provide an interpretation for a planet in a place of rulership.

Thrones

At one point he does refer to a planet in its own “throne” (Ch. 36 on the chart lord). His use of counts of rulership and his reference to “throne” both show Ptolemy’s influence. Therefore, it is assumed that Paulus was consistent with Ptolemy in his view of the fortification of a planet’s power by a share of rulership.

“For a diurnal birth, it will be necessary to examine the bound-ruler, exaltation-ruler, or trigonal master of the Sun; for a nocturnal birth the bound-ruler and house-steward of the Moon, and the rest in the manner as above. Of the aforesaid ways, when one star should have more counts than the others and should be found at morning rising on a pivot and in its own throne, this one [then] has the Rulership, especially if it should oversee the light of the sect.” (Paulus Alexandrinus, Ch. 36, Greenbaum trans., 2001, p. 75)

Firmicus Maternus on Sign-Based Rejoicing Conditions

Maternus was a 4th-century Roman astrologer, writing in Latin. His Mathesis is a massive 8 volume work on natal astrology. Despite the massive nature of the text, the fact that it draws on diverse sources, and the inclusion of whole chapters dedicated to laying out all relevant principles of interpretation, there is no concept of detriment in Maternus’s text.

Sign-Based Conditions in Maternus

The second volume (Book II) clearly lays out all the distinctions pertaining to the signs. Chapter 2 lays out the domiciles of the planets, and there is no mention of special consideration pertaining to the signs opposite them. The next chapters outline the exaltations and falls of the planets. Maternus then goes on to discuss the decans (Ch. 5), the bounds (Ch. 7), the triplicities (16a), the twelfth-parts (Ch. 17), the antiscia (Ch. 30), and more.

His treatment of triplicities is restricted to the directional wind associated with each triplicity and does not define the lords. There is a lacuna in the text in Book II right around the discussion of sect which may have contained more information on triplicity.

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Lack of Detriment

There is no concept of detriment or anything like it in Maternus’s treatment. Maternus is yet another example of an important early Hellenistic astrologer who took pains to lay out the various sign rulerships, and noted fall, but had no detriment-like concept. As with Paulus, he is about 500 years into the tradition, and there is already an emphasis on secondary sources.

Maternus’s Interpretation

In Maternus, we see a mash-up of power, stature, and beneficence when interpreting dignity. In fact, he has the most exaggerated interpretation of dignity of any Hellenistic astrologer.

In other astrologers, we would see an emphasis on other matters for determining both strength and beneficence, with self-rulership being a relatively minor consideration. When it was considered we saw some variation between interpretations based on beneficence (Dorotheus), stature (Valens), and power or effectiveness (Valens, Ptolemy, Antiochus/Porphyry, Paulus).

With Maternus we see not only an interpretation that combines stature and benefic qualities. Furthermore, there is also the direct assertion that more planets in dignity equate to a better and more successful person.

Dignity as a Measure of Personal Value

The chapter on “The Quality of Nativities” directly correlates the quality of one’s existence with the number of planets in domicile. Surely, Maternus could not have anticipated the charts of Ted Turner and Jeffrey Dahmer.

When I first got into traditional astrology, I saw a lot of traditional work being done along these lines. It was simply assumed that planets in dignity meant “better in every way”. While this was the view of Maternus, I was pleased upon studying the other Hellenistic astrologers to see that a simple “more powerful” or “fortified” interpretation was more common, and that, in fact, other factors were typically more stressed than dignity.

The Fortune-Domicile Hierarchy

“He who has two stars in their own domiciles in opportune houses is elevated with moderate good fortune. He will be lucky beyond measure and powerful who has three. He who has four planets posited in their own domiciles attains a felicity nigh unto that of the Gods. […] But whoever has no planet posited in its own domicile will be unknown, of low degree, and always involved in wretched activities.” (Maternus, Book II, Ch. 23 [II.21], Holden trans., 2011, p. 71)

Other Dignities

In his chapter (II.3) on exaltation and fall (Chapters 3-4 of Holden), Maternus similarly associated exaltation with good fortune and high status, while fall with bad fortune and the impoverishment. He also asserted that planets are better in their exaltations than even in their own domiciles. He considered a planet in its own bound to be just like a planet in its own domicile.

Pseudo-Manetho

There is a Hellenistic text attributed to Manetho which has a similar interpretation of dignity as that given by Maternus. The dating of the text is difficult because the original author was believed to have written in the early 2nd century (born in 80 CE) but the work came together in the next couple of centuries after that with additions from other authors. In any case, a section of Book 2, starting at line 141, is very similar to the “better in every way” interpretation we find in Maternus.

“All of the stars in their own houses at the time of birth are very good; when benefic, they are better, and they give more good things; and when malefic, they give fewer bad things. Accordingly, it is particularly important to consider how many (planets) are seen to be in their own houses or terms. If they are more, they are by far better. But if they are fewer, they grant a lesser glory and profession to one’s livelihood.” (Manetho, Book II, #141-147, Lopilato trans., 1998, p. 207)

Today’s Interpretive Choices

Again, I strongly disagree with such views. I present them because it is vital to see the very different approaches of basic principles of the system in the narrow sense, which are still Hellenistic astrology in the broad sense. Valens explicitly noted that power was increased for signifying good or bad when a planet was in its own bound. Similarly, there is an emphasis on planetary power or effectiveness in Ptolemy and Antiochus/Porphyry. Dorotheus, Manetho, and Maternus see it as an increase in the good fortune associated with a planet.

These are actually quite different interpretations. They imply that the foundational texts didn’t lay out the interpretation of such positions very distinctly. It takes experience with charts and critical thinking to determine which interpretation is most fruitful (i.e. reflective of circumstances, especially at activations of the positions).

The First 500 Years: A Recap

We have looked at the major astrologers of the first 500 years of Hellenistic astrology, from about the 1st or 2nd century BCE to the end of the 4th century CE. Manilius, another 1st-century astrologer, was not explored because of his lack of significant influence on the tradition, but he too did not use detriment in his text. It is safe to conclude that “detriment” or a similar concept to it was not a part of the Hellenistic system in a narrow sense. It was quite a late addition.

We are left with some pertinent questions. First, if the pivotal early Hellenistic astrologers like Dorotheus, Ptolemy, Valens, Antiochus, Porphyry, Paulus, and Maternus didn’t require a concept of detriment, why should we? Second, where the heck did detriment come from? While pondering the first question, let’s move on to examine the second one.

Section 2: The Late Hellenistic Intimations of Detriment

We don’t see our first evidence for a detriment-like concept emerge until about the 5th century CE, and then only loosely. If remarks by Hephaistion are taken out of context or one does a fair bit of reading between the lines combining two texts attributed to Rhetorius, one comes away with a new detriment-like planetary condition.

These intimations of detriment (particularly Rheotrius) spurred its later development. However, detriment is still not clear even in these late Hellenistic intimations. See Olympiadorus (below) for evidence that detriment was still not a widespread part of astrological practice (i.e no mention in one major treatment) in the 6th century. As we’ll see in Section 3, Perso-Arabic astrologers didn’t inherit a concept of detriment. Rather, it slowly developed in the following centuries before becoming an integral part of astrological practice.

Point of Entry

Intimations of detriment are due largely to a melding of a Ptolemaic rationalizing approach to planet-sign relationships with a desire for a clean analogy between the two types of sign-based rulership (domicile and exaltation). As Ptolemy’s work became more popular in the centuries after his death, I think the environment was ripe for the development of a concept like detriment.

We see this in the addition of some of the features of detriment in Rhetorius. In Rhetorius, we clearly see an overzealous attempt at rationalizing the opposition of domiciles on analogy with exaltation and fall. It is through the influence of Rhetorius that the concept appears to have eventually become a component of Perso-Arabic astrology, and from there to later traditional astrology (European Medieval Astrology; European Renaissance Astrology; Late Traditional Astrology).

Hephaistio of Thebes on Sign-Based Rejoicing Conditions

Hephaistio (sometimes written as Hephaistion) was an influential astrologer of the 5th century CE who sought to synthesize the methodologies of Ptolemy and Dorotheus. By Hephaistio’s time astrologers were drawing primarily on secondary sources, such as Ptolemy and Dorotheus, rather than the foundational texts. The work of Ptolemy and Dorotheus would actually shape Hephaistio’s approach.

Hephaistio wrote in Greek and often quoted directly from the Greek verses of Dorotheus. This makes him one of the best sources for Dorothean fragments true to the original. His Book III is one of the most important works of inceptional (electional and event astrology) of the Hellenistic period. It draws on Dorotheus but also a number of other astrologers to present a rich and diverse compendium of approaches to elections.

Hephaistio’s influence on the later Perso-Arabic tradition appears to have been only indirect. There does not appear to have been a translation of the three books of his Apotolesmatiks into Arabic. However, as we’ll see, he did have an impact on a number of later Byzantine compilations.

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Book I and II

Hephaistio’s Book I pertains to astrological principles and mundane astrology. Natal topics are dealt with in Book II. Hephaistio did define sign-based rejoicing conditions in Book I of his work, without any mention of detriment or a detriment-like concept in those passages. However, he has a paraphrase of Dorotheus deep in Book II concerning solar returns which some have interpreted as reflective of a detriment-like condition.

Rulerships

Hephaistio opened Book I with a chapter on the signs. This section heavily emphasizes the meaning of the decans. Chapters 6-8 present the triplicities, places the stars rejoice, as well as exaltations and falls by way of directly quoting verses of Dorotheus.

Chapter 13, a particularly confusing one, defines the ruler and co-ruler of a house, as well as the ruler of the chart. Hephaistio appears to say that the domicile lord rules a house but that one should also consider as “co-ruler” an occupant that rules its own position by exaltation, triplicity, or bound. Hephaistio’s chart lord is the planet with the most of five relations to the Sun (house, exaltation, triplicity, bound, or phase).

In Chapter 18, Hephaistio defined the twelfth-parts. In Chapter 19, Hephaistio defined the chariots and thrones in the same manner as Ptolemy (2 or more affiliations). There is no defining of a detriment-like concept in Book I, despite treatment of the other sign-based rejoicing conditions. Therefore, when Hephaistio had the explicit opportunity to define a detriment-like concept he did not.

Detriment?

As noted, Hephaistio, like the major Hellenistic astrologers before him, took pains to describe the planetary sign-based rejoicing conditions, which did not include any detriment-like concept. However, in Book II, Ch. 27, “Concerning the Year”, we find the following statement:

“That when the stars are in opposition to their own domiciles, they are corrupted.” (Hephaistio, Book II, Ch. 27, Schmidt trans., 1998, p. 81)

On the face of it, this would appear to be a clear introduction of the concept of detriment in the 5th century by Hephaistio. As Hephaistio is apparently paraphrasing Dorotheus, some might even suggest that detriment came from Dorotheus. In fact, Brennan (2017) noted this very passage as one supporting his reconstruction of detriment. Therefore, we should more closely examine the context of this passage.

Context

Part of that context involves the lack of mention of such a condition in Book I where Hephaistio lays out such conditions. The other part of the context pertains to this passage itself. I’ve noted that the Hephaistio passage occurs in a discussion of the interpretation of the solar return. This is quite a different context from the Anubio passage which is within a section on planetary configurations in the natal chart. This casts doubt on the idea that Hephaistio is here paraphrasing a passage in Dorotheus that was parallel to the passage in Anubio on opposition of a ruler. More likely, Hephaistin is paraphrasing a passage in Dorotheus on the interpretation of the solar return.

Solar Return Interpretation

The chapter, “Concerning the Year”, is an exploration of solar returns and related annual methods. The focus is particularly on the Dorothean approach to them. Let’s see the passage together with the lines before it.

“That it is also necessary to set up the Hōroskopos of the year in the counter-nativity [solar return], and the stars [planets] that contemplate it and its lord by fixity [natally] and by transit. That the stars occupying their own thrones rejoice even if they should be under the beams; the benefics increase the good things and the destroyers are changed over in the direction of beneficence. That when the stars are in opposition to their own domiciles, they are corrupted. That when we make the circumambulations of the stars in the division of the times, it is necessary to know that the contacts of the planets […]” (Hephaistio, Book II, Ch. 27, Schmidt trans., 1998, p. 80-81, bracketed items added by me)

Hephaistio goes on to make other examinations of the solar return chart and lord of the year in forecasting events for the year. The stress on the chapter “Concerning the Year” is clearly on the annual predictive techniques, especially the solar return transits. “Opposition to their own domiciles” may refer to the solar return transits. It is also slightly ambiguous. Does Hephaistion refer to solar return planets opposing the houses they rule or the houses they natally occupy?

Dorotheus on Solar Returns

The ambiguity is important. In the Schmidt translation a footnote refers the reader to Schmidt’s own Antiochus reconstruction. The concept of detriment as Schmidt constructed it from his reading of Rhetorius is projected backward onto Hephaistio, as it was onto Antiochus.

As Hephaistio is drawing primarily on Dorotheus in the section, it is more instructive to look at the manuscripts of Dorotheus that have come down to us. Interestingly, Dorotheus highlights a planet opposed to its natal position as particularly important when analyzing the solar return.

“Now I will also make clear to you the changing over of each of the seven to the places of the others. Each planet of the seven, when it reaches the place which it looked at [aspected] from the seventh [opposition] on the day the native was born [solar return], it will be harsh in misfortune.” (Dorotheus, Book IV, Ch. 4, Dykes trans., 2018, p. 221, bracketed items added by me)

Reconciling Hephaistion and Dorotheus

Hephaistio regularly attempted to synthesize Ptolemy and Dorotheus. His section on the year even ends with a short quote from Dorotheus. The section pertains primarily to the Dorothean annual methods. His passage on oppositions in the solar return appears to be a reference to the Dorothean passage on planets opposing the signs they natally occupy. That interpretation is more consistent with the evidence than an interpretation that treats this as “detriment” (sign-based debility).

That interpretation is also consistent with one of the Dorotheus Excerpts (XXXI):

“Every star which by transit is diametrical to its natal position, is difficult.” (Dorotheus, Dykes trans., 2017, p. 343)

Therefore, Hephaistion appears to have garbled a passage on the difficulty of the opposition by transit just enough to appear to introduce planetary corruption for a planet opposed to its own house. Whether he viewed that corruption as significant as a general chart principle or just in the context of solar return configurations (and elections as we’ll see below) is unclear. However, he did not feel it was important enough to mention as a general interpretive principle when treating of such principles.

Complications from a Note on Elections

Unfortunately, Hephaistio may have interpreted (perhaps incorrectly) a possibly ambiguous Dorothean passage as pertaining to opposing the house the planet rules rather than the one it occupies. In support of this view, Hephaistio notes in Book III, for the ideal electional chart “the stars should not be in diameters with their own houses and exaltations” (Ch. 2, #3, Gramaglia trans., p. 36-37).

Also in support of this view is the fact that late compilations took the passage out of its predictive context. Statements in a compilation attributed to Serapio and in the late compilation Liber Hermetis echo the solar return passage from Hephaistio about planets opposing domiciles turning bad. After all, while in the midst of a discussion of return methodology, Hephaistio also mentions how “thrones” create accidental benefics immediately prior. Therefore, it was evidently taken by some ancient compilers (and more recently Rob Schmidt, Rob Hand, and even Chris Brennan) as an interlude on dignity in the midst of a section on annual methods.

Interpolation

The Hephaistion manuscripts are from the 11th and 13th centuries. It would be all too easy for “houses” to have slipped into the elections passage, or even for the interlude about chariots and planets opposing their domiciles in the solar return to have been added.

Interpolation, the addition of small bits of material, was not uncommon in ancient astrological manuscripts. A late Byzantine compiler familiar with the later concept of detriment could easily add in a note here or there to mention an important concept they think was left out. Recognizing this possibility is not paranoia but is simply a must with ancient astrological texts. For instance, listen to the discussion with Levente Laszlo where he discusses this.

Astrological texts were used as practical manuals, so when copied it was not unusual to add additional details that a copyist thought may have been important omissions or even related passages from other texts.

Historical Context Matters

The surviving manuscripts and fragments of Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and many other major astrologers don’t show any evidence of a detriment-like concept. It became an important principle only in about the 9th century. Detriment appears to have developed without any influence from Hephaistio, whose work didn’t make it into Arabic.

As planetary corruption due to detriment was not a significant chart principle among even most early Perso-Arabic astrologers we must be wary of seeing it as an important principle in Hephaistio’s astrology or the astrology of that period, let alone prior periods. We have learned from today’s “reconstructions” of detriment into Hellenistic astrology that it is all too easy to anachronistically project later developments onto the past as if things were always done that way.

Detriment became an ubiquitous planetary debility and sign classification in astrology in the centuries prior to the copying of the surviving Hephaistio manuscripts. There is a very real possibility that the stray, somewhat out-of-place interlude on dignity that marks the first appearance of planetary corruption was not so much an innovation of Hephaistio but a later addition to the text. T

Possibilities

Was Hephaistio the first to use a planetary debility akin to detriment, back in the 5th century? It’s impossible to say on such scant evidence. If he did have a concept of detriment it was odd that he didn’t mention it when defining sign-based conditions in Book I. Why only mention it as problemantic to planets in the context of solar return transits and elections? Did he only consider it as relevant in those contexts in his own work?

Perhaps Hephaistio developed something like a concept of Detriment while in the middle of writing his work. He could have misinterpreted the Dorothean passage as implying opposition to domicile was unfortunate. After including that interpretation in Book II, maybe he felt inclined to advise that one avoid that placement in elections too just to be safe. Or perhaps one or both passages has been added to or corrupted over the centuries and no longer accurately represents what Hephaistio believed. We will probably never know.

Possible Intimations

In Hephaistio we see the possibility that detriment may have started to develop on analogy with fall. The evidence is weak. At best, Hephaistio warned to avoid putting planets in the sign opposite their domicile in elections, and that such planets are corrupted in solar returns. If that is the case, then still for Hephaistio it had not become a chart principle important enough to define in the book delineating the main distinctions of the chart.

At worse, passages on solar returns and elections were mangled just enough over more than 600 years of transmission to the form we are left with to give the impression of something like detriment. As noted, the solar return passage is fairly ambiguous when considered together with the surviving Dorotheus. The electional passage would just need the interpolation of a couple words.

Legacy

Hephaistio was not translated into Arabic. His influence on that tradition could’ve been only indirect, unlike Rhetorius whose influence on the later tradition was great. He is an astrologer who took pains to define sign-based rejoicing and debility. He didn’t define a detriment-like concept, yet also may have made comments hinting at something like detriment. In that his text stands as a point of transition toward detriment’s development.

His legacy lies primarily in later compilations like that attributed to Serapio, as well as the Liber Hermetis. More on such works below. In such works, the passage about planets opposing their houses turning bad is echoed, though outside of a return transit context.

Interpretation of Dignity

The Hephaistio quote from Book II which I cited above reflects a Dorothean interpretation of dignity. Benefics become more benefic, malefics become less malefic. As Hephaistio was synthesizing Ptolemy and Dorotheus, it is possible that he fused both of their interpretations. A fusion in which planets in a place of rulership became both more powerful or prominent and more benefic (i.e. simply better) came to predominate in the later tradition.

Olympiadorus on Sign-Based Rejoicing Conditions

Olympiadorus is a 6th century astrologer who commented upon the work of Paulus Alexandrinus. I won’t devote a lot of attention to him here. A couple things are notable about him though. First, there is no detriment in the text.

The commentary is from the 6th century and shows emphases pertaining to the late tradition such quadrant houses. Still, Olympiadorus does not refer to any detriment-like concept in it. This speaks against the assumption that a “detriment-like” concept was an established part of Hellenistic astrological practice even as late as the 6th century (in fact, it never was as established part of Hellenistic practice).

Corrects the Idiosyncratic Twelfth-Parts

The second notable thing is that while Paulus used an idiosyncratic form of twelfth-parts in which a position was multiplied by 13 rather than 12, Olympiadorus in his commentary instructs to use the typical twelfth-parts (see Greenbaum trans., 2001, p. 82 & p. 102-103).

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Rhetorius on Sign-Based Rejoicing Conditions

As noted, Chris Brennan credited Rhetorius with the first definition of a detriment-like condition in Hellenistic astrology. Rhetorius is typically dated to the 6th or 7th century CE. He is often considered the last notable Hellenistic astrologer; the bookend to Hellenistic astrology.

Rhetorius wrote a large Compendium which includes material from a wide variety of sources, together with his own commentary. The work is quite varied. There are a number of references to sign-based rejoicing conditions.

Two passages attributed to Rhetorius are often referred to as our best Hellenistic source of a detriment-like concept. However, the one that gets the most attention, his passage on definitions, actually contains no clear reference to such a condition. The clearest reference is actually in the second place, the summary of Teucer of Babylon’s treatment of the signs of the zodiac that was attributed to him. Let’s look at the two passages in more detail.

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Rhetorius on the Contrariety of the Planetary Rulers

The passage that is cited the most with regard to a detriment-like condition in Hellenistic astrology is Chapter 8 of the Compendium. Its title may be translated as “The Oppositions of the Stars” (Holden trans.) or “Concerning the Contrarieties of the Stars” (Schmidt trans., 1993 Antiochus reconstruction). However, before we can analyze the passage in some depth, we need to familiarize ourselves with the terminology used in the Greek and the various translation conventiones that have emerged for it.

Terminology: In the Anti

The Ancient Greek term at issue, which is variously translated as “opposition” or “contrariety” is “enantiōma”. Related terms, involving the same compond root of “en-anti”, also appear in Hellenistic astrological texts (and other Hellenistic texts in general), and were relatively common. he root term “en” is cognate with English “in” while the root term “anti” is common in English as it was borrowed from Ancient Greek. Terms with the “en-anti” root then have a sense of being in-the-anti, or in the opposing position. It has a relatively similar range of meaning as “opposition” words in English, such as “opposite” and “opponent”.

Two Translation Conventions

Robert Schmidt and James Herschel Holden were among our most competent translators of Greek astrological texts. Holden chose “opposition”, while Schmidt opted for “contrariety”. While both quite accurately capture the meaning in Rhetorius, the wording chosen by Schmidt appeared to have one slight advantage. It captured the fact that different terms were typically used for the aspect of opposition (i.e. diameter, in the 7th from). At least that’s how the story goes. And since different terms were typically used for the opposition aspect, enantioma was taken to be the term for a particularly special form of opposition or contrariety – the Hellenistic detriment.

However, as I later discovered, enanti terms were in fact used by astrologers for the simple configuration of opposition. While not the most common term, it was a ready enough alternative form for the simple oppositional aspect (for evidence see here). An astrologer reading a Hellenistic text would be aware of this common meaning of this common term. The most similar English term, which is just as common, has a similar range of meaning, and can also be used for the aspect is “opposite” and its derivatives (opposition). Therefore, it has emerged that “opposite” or “opposition” is the more accurate translation.

Ptolemaic-Style Justification for Arrangement or Planetary Condition?

Both Schmidt and Holden’s translations of the passage are quite consistent, apart from the choice of opposite or contrary for the key term. This is an important fact because it is often asserted that the passage says something it does not. The passage does not say that a planet is in a state of contrariety when it is in a position opposite its own house. It is lacking any comments on a planetary debility. Rather, the passage states that each house is contrary/opposite another house because the rulers of those houses have contrary/opposite natures.

In other words, it is a Ptolemaic-style justification for the arrangement of houses. Rhetorius, playing on the meanings of the root for opposite (enanti), provides a rationale in which houses are arranged opposite each other because they are ruled by planets that are “opposites”.

What it is lacking, is any statement that a planet is itself in a “contrary” condition when opposite its own house. Without such a statement there is no detriment-like condition (i.e. condition of planetary debility in the sign opposite the domicile).

Exaltations and Falls

As noted earlier, the work by Antiochus, as summarized in Porphyry, gave no rationale for the arrangement of exaltations and falls. On the other hand, Ptolemy gave a detailed justification, as he felt that such arrangements had to be explained by an appeal to the qualitative natures of things. In Rhetorius, just before his treatment of the Contrarieties of the Stars, he gives us a Ptolemaic treatment of exaltations and depressions (Ch. 7).

“Having said then all the physical mixture of the signs, we will come to the causes of the exaltations and falls and the opposites of the stars; for what reason is the Sun exalted here, Saturn in its fall there; and Saturn exalted here, and the Sun in its fall there? For we say that the Sun is the storehouse of fire and light and the lord of the day, but Saturn on the other hand is cold signifying darkness.” (Rhetorius, Ch. 7, Holden trans., 2009, p. 6)

Recalling Ptolemy

Note the use of Ptolemaic language like “cause” and “physical mixture” in the quote above. Let’s look at similar statements by Ptolemy on exaltation.

“Saturn again, in order to have a position opposite to sun, as also in the matter of their houses, took, contrariwise, Libra as his exaltation and Aries as his depression. For where heat increases there cold diminishes, and where the former diminishes cold on the contrary increases.” (Ptolemy, Book I, Ch. 19, Robbins trans., 1940)

We should also recall Ptolemy’s own treatment of why the domiciles of the luminaries and Saturn are opposite each other, as I cited above.

“Since of the twelve signs the most northern, which are closer than the others to our zenith and therefore most productive of heat and of warmth are Cancer and Leo, they assigned these to the greatest and most powerful heavenly bodies, that is, to the luminaries […] For to Saturn, in whose nature cold prevails, as opposed to heat, and which occupies the orbit highest and farthest from the luminaries, were assigned the signs opposite Cancer and Leo, namely Capricorn and Aquarius, with the additional reason that these signs are cold and wintry […]” (Ptolemy, Book I, Ch. 17, Robbins trans., 1940)

The Ptolemaic Precursor

In the Ptolemaic passages from which I’ve drawn the excerpts above, Ptolemy already rationalized rulership arrangements by quality, including planetary quality. He also drew a parallel between exaltation/fall and houses opposed to each other. You see, Ptolemy noted that the oppositions between the homes of luminaries and those of Saturn pertain to the contrary qualities of the signs. Yet, he also pointed to the opposition between the Sun’s exaltation and that of Saturn based on planetary qualities.

Following Ptolemy’s model, Rhetorius only invented a rationale to go along with every opposition of signs based on contrary qualities of rulers, both exaltation and domicile. In Chapter 7, Rhetorius gave his Ptolemaic style exposition of contrary exaltation rulers. In Chapter 8, he does so for domicile rulers. However, he does not go very far beyond Ptolemy here. Like Ptolemy, he only offers a sort of rationale of arrangement. He does not name a new condition of planetary debility called contrariety which a planet can find itself in.

Rhetorius on Contrariety

Below, you will find a quote from the first section of Holden’s (2009) translation of Chapter 8 of Rhetorius. This is the controversial section. I put in brackets where Schmidt used the terms contrary or contrariety in his 1993 translation of the same passage (his Antiochus “reconstruction”).

“For what reason are the domiciles of the Sun and the Moon opposite [contrary] to the domiciles of Saturn? We say that the Sun and the Moon are the luminaries of the world, but Saturn is the lord of darkness. Then always is the light opposite [contrary] to the darkness and the darkness to the light. Again, on what account are the domiciles of Mercury opposite [contrary] to the domiciles of Jupiter and the domiciles of Jupiter opposite [contrary] to the domiciles of Mercury? We say that Jupiter is the ruler of wealth and abundance, but Mercury is always the lord of words; for logic is always opposed [contrary] to and contemptuous of the desire for wealth, and abundance is opposed [contrary] to logic. Again, for what reason are the domiciles of Mars opposed [contrary] to the domiciles of Venus? We say that Venus is the ruler of all desire and enjoyment and pleasure, but Mars of all fear and war and anger. Always then are enjoyment and longing and pleasure opposed [contrary] to dread and irascibility and hostility.” (Rhetorius, Ch. 8, Holden trans., 2009, p. 7-8)

Rhetorius then goes on to explore how configurations of Venus with Mars, and Venus with Saturn, result in issues with fidelity and reproduction due to their opposite meanings.

Contrary Significations?

Rhetorius’s logic is very questionable. Mercury, the traditional planet of commerce is suddenly “opposed” to wealth? Mars, the traditional planet of passion is “opposed” to desire? There is little “natural” or “inevitable” about these supposedly contrary qualities. All planets have some similar and some contrary significations.

Venus surely has more contrast with Saturn than with Mars, its passionate nocturnal sect mate. For first century Romans, there was concern about whether it was safe to allow the worship of three particular gods within the city. Those three were Vulcan for risk of fire, and then Venus and Mars due to their arousing passions. Oddly in Rhetorius’s scheme, the planet of sexuality (Venus) is even of a contrary nature to a water sign that rules the genitals (Scorpio).

Venus-Saturn

Rhetorius quickly moves from considering Venus-Mars combinations to dwelling on Venus-Saturn ones. However, Venus and Saturn don’t have opposing domciles, and Saturn is in fact exalted in one of Venus’s signs (Libra). The common thread in the passage about problematic combinations of planets with contrary qualities is Venus when combined with a malefic – not the combination of two planets that rule opposing domiciles.

It is clear that any combination of a planet with significations of a malefic could be potentially problematic. That is because malefics signify extremes.

Mercury-Jupiter as a Malefic-Free Example

On the other hand, it is not clear why planets which rule opposite domiciles should pose any problem in combination. For instance, in Book I, Ch. 19, on “the combinations of the stars”, Valens notes among other things that combinations of Mercury with Jupiter (and Moon with Saturn) are beneficial and that the two planets are in harmony. Are they in harmony as Valens asserted or opposed in quality as Rhetorius asserted? Dorotheus, Manetho, and Valens all gave delineations for Mercury-Jupiter combinations that are exceedingly positive.

Therefore, Rhetorius stretched Ptolemaic logic, and his play on the word “opposite”, beyond their limits. He arrived at a rationale for house opposition that is not traditional. Unfortunately, it has been taken by some to imply a whole new doctrine of contariety as well which leads to interpretations of planetary combination and planet with sign that are inconsistent with early Hellenistic astrology. Rhetorius’s remarks on the arrangement of the houses should be taken with quite a bit of salt.

Conclusions on Contariety

Again, Rhetorius does not create a planetary condition in the passage on contrariety. There is no planetary debility called “contrariety” being evoked. Rather, this section is simply an elaboration of the sort of justifications given by Ptolemy for the rulership arrangements. If this were the only passage attributed to Rhetorius on opposition to domicile, then we’d have to conclude the Rhetorius did not have a detriment-like concept.

Rhetorius on the Signs

The section of Rhetorius where detriment suddenly appears as a planetary condition is more controversial. It is actually another text entirely – a summary of Teucer of Babylon on the signs of the zodiac which was said to be a translation made and added to by Rhetorius. It is controversial for a number of reasons.

Controversial Features

First and foremost, the section is attributed to Teucer of Babylon but shows evidence of the interpolation of material from Ptolemy. Therefore, it is clearly not just material from Teucer of Babylon (an astrologer typically dated to the 1st century or earlier). It is likely material by Teucer that was compiled with material by other astrologers on the signs, perhaps even with additions by Rhetorius himself.

Second, there is some controversy as to whether the material is even from Rhetorius. It is not part of the main compendium. Holden, in a History of Horoscopic Astrology, puts “Rhetorius” in quotes as the author of the material. He noted that he put Rhetorius in quotes because Pingree had suggested it is not certain whether Rhetorius actually authored the material. A later compiler, summarizing and adding to Teucer, may have written this material which was attributed to Rhetorius.

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Third, Holden translates passages as saying X sign is the “detriment” of Y planet. This is clearly an anachronistic translation. It projects the later concept of “detriment” which would have been unknown to the reader in that day, into a Hellenistic text. Holden doesn’t specify what Greek term he is translating as “detriment”.

The Detriment Of…

The text, in Holden’s translation, clearly identifies which sign is the “detriment” of each planet.

“The sign Aries is {…}. domicile of Mars, the exaltation of the Sun, around the 19th degree, the fall of Saturn around the 21st degree, the triplicity by day of the Sun, by night of Jupiter, common [to both] Saturn, the detriment of Venus.” (Rhetorius, The Twelve Signs from Teucer of Babylon, Holden trans., 2009, p. 167, curly brackets and bolding added)

Similarly, Taurus is said to be the “detriment of Mars” and so forth for many of the other signs.

Translation Convention

Of course, it would be helpful to know what Holden is here translating as “detriment”. The section he is translating is freely available for analysis at this link. It is page 194-213 of CCAG 7. Please see the top of page 195, which is the tail end of the section I quoted a translation for above on Aries. You will find the following text from about the middle of the second line (accents and breathing marks omitted):

“εναντιωμα Αφροδιτης”

In our spelling, this is ‘enantíoma Aphrodítes’. The most direct translation is “opposite of Venus”. Thus, in the sign descriptions attributed to Rhetorius (and Teucer), we find our first instance of “contrariety” or “opposite” as a planetary condition. It is now Venus that is in its “opposite” or “contrariety” in Aries, rather than just that Aries is opposite to Libra because Mars has a nature that is the opposite of Venus, as in the passage in the actual compendium.

Note also that the translation of “detriment” is not appropriate here. The term can mean opposition, contrariety, or something like that. Holden consistently translated “opposition” or “opposite” in the compendium but then the same term consistently as “detriment” in this passage. This differing translation convention obscures the use of the same term in the two passages.

It also obscures the use of a term that doesn’t necessarily imply debility. For instance, a term like “kakunontai” (turned bad; corrupted) is more readily associated with adversity or affliction, but it is not the term used here. Instead, we find the odd classification of some signs as the “opposite” or “contrariety” of planets that rule the domiciles opposite to them.

Interpretation of Dignity

Let’s change gears for a second to look at how Rhetorius seems to interpret sign-based dignity.

One significant difference between Rhetorius and Porphyry is that Rhetorius has two sections on fortified planets. First, a section on “Fortified Stars” (Ch. 42R) equates being in domicile, exaltation, term, or proper face with being stronger or fortified. This interpretation and the inclusion of proper face speak to the influence of Ptolemy, and possibly also Antiochus.

Next, his section on “Chariots” (Ch. 43R) has the same situation increasing the good of benefics and changing malefics into a good influence. This interpretation is consistent with Dorotheus.

In other words, Rhetorius tries to have it both ways, a strength and a beneficence interpretation. This is a melding of Ptolemaic and Dorothean views, actually stated one chapter after another. As I noted earlier, the combination of strength and beneficence (i.e. simply better) largely came to prevail in the later tradition. Such an interpretation is a consequence of synthesizing the competing views rather than selecting among them.

Did Rhetorius Use Detriment?

For the time being, let’s assume that Rhetorius did author the passages on the signs. This is not an uncontroversial assumption. We still then just see some development toward detriment. It is not clearly laid out or defined but comes together by adding up disparate statements between two texts and reading between the lines.

Reading Between the Lines

First, Rhetorius identified a parallel between exaltation and domicile logic based on planetary natures. Secondly, Rhetorius emphasized that signs opposite each other have rulers with opposing qualities. Third, Rhetorius emphasized that ill effects from planetary configurations come about due to contrary natures. Basically, we have an analogy with fall and some reworked and expanded Ptolemaic logic.

In the separate work on signs attributed to Rhetorius, the signs opposite a planet’s domicile are noted as the “opposite” or “contrariety” of a planet. Here, oppositeness or contrariety becomes a sign classification. Only when we take this together with the comments about the ill effects produced by contrary natures (the Venus-Mars and Venus-Saturn passage) can one infer something like detriment.

That is, one must assume that the signs classified as the “opposites” of certain planets are places where those planets have a debility due to the contrary nature of the ruler of the sign. That assertion is never explicitly made, even in the Teucer material.

The Foundation of Detriment

Clearly, at some point, a Perso-Arabic astrologer put these pieces together such that a detriment-like concept truly became defined. However, as we’ll see, such a concept is not simply inevitable from the study of Rhetorius. Theophilus of Edessa (early 8th century) drew heavily upon Rhetorius yet didn’t have a detriment-like planetary debility. I attempt to trace detriment’s entrance and development in the Perso-Arabic tradition in Section 3 below.

Misleading Impressions

Unfortunately, between Schmidt’s early “Antiochus’ reconstruction, Holden’s Rhetorius translation, and commentary by modern astrologers on Rhetorius, we have been left with false impressions. We are told that a detriment-like concept was already well-formed in Rhetorius’s Compendium. It is supposed to be clear in Chapter 8, on the oppositions of the signs. Instead, we find only a somewhat convoluted theory of oppositeness or contrariety as a rationale for domicile arrangement, drawing heavily upon Ptolemy.

Loose Ends: Serapio and Liber Hermetis

In Schmidt’s Definitions and Foundations, detriment was ultimately reconstructed based on a passage attributed to Serapio of Alexandria. Serapio of Alexandria was an early Hellenistic astrologer, sometimes placed in the 1st century.

Unfortunately, the particular text with the “detriment” passage is one that is known to be a late compilation. It contains material from many authors. It is attributed to Serapio but is known to contain later added material (much like the “Teucer” signs material discussed above). The passage is nearly identical to the solar return passage in Hephaistio, so it appears to be merely an echo of that passage. Another near identical passage appears in another late compilation, the Liber Hermetis, again apparently drawing from Hephaistio.

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Stars Contrary to their Houses Do Bad

The passage at issue can be found in CCAG 8, Part 4, at the very top of page 231 (first line; click here for link). A transliteration is “Hoti hoi asteres enantioumenoi tois idiois oikois kakunontai.”. The verb here, “kakuno” (base “kakun-“), means “to damage” or “to corrupt” (including corrupt in a moral sense). The suffix on the verb, “ontai”, is the passive voice third-person plural ending. Therefore, “are corrupted” can be a fairly clear literal translation.

The translation by Eduardo Gramaglia (2013, p. 9, click here to read) is “The stars opposing their own places do bad.” The translation is accurate enough. It incorporates the concept of contrariety/opposition as a form of planetary corruption.

Hephaistio’s Solar Return Advice Becomes a Planetary Condition

The passage is exactly word-for-word in Ancient Greek identical to Hephaistio’s solar return passage (see Pingree’s edition of Hephaistio, 1973, p. 198, lines 17-18). A similar Latin passage also appears in the Liber Hermetis, a late compendium of Hellenistic astrology. However, I noted that the solar return passage was ambiguous in Hephaistio, as it appears to paraphrase Dorotheus’s advice on return transits. Dorotheus’s advice has come down to us as planets in the return opposing their natal positions indicate misfortune.

The Hephaistio passage is in the context of solar returns. Rhetorius requires you to put together his statements on contrariety in the compendium with the other material on signs attributed to him in another work. By contrast, these short pithy statement are clear. They state simply that a planet opposing its own house is corrupted or bad – clear planetary debility. Therefore, you’ll likely see these passages emphasized as evidence that detriment was a Hellenistic principle. Furthermore, Serapio’s early date makes him a particularly appealing poster child, as we saw with Schmidt’s use in Definitions and Foundations.

Late Compilations with Textual Issues

The problem with both sources is that they are late compilations known to contain numerous later additions. In fact, as I noted this is may also be an issue with the Teucer/Rhetorius material on the signs.

Brennan (2017), unlike Schmidt, did not draw on Serapio for his reconstruction. This is because, as he noted (p. 250, footnotes 95 & 97), David Pingree had already warned that this particular text attributed to Serapio was a late compilation with many evident interpolations. Brennan actually admitted that the passage in the Serapio text most likely derived from Hephaistio (2017, p. 250, fn 97) due to the identical wording.

Liber Hermetis

Problematically, Brennan still draws on the nearly identical passage in the Liber Hermetis. That passage is even more obviously a late compilation. It also appears to draw straight from the same line in Hephaistio. The Liber Hermetis is believed to have been compiled in the 6th or 7th century based on style and content, though possibly later. It survives only in a 15th-century Latin manuscript.

The occurrence of an out of context line from Hephaistio in these late compilations is insufficient evidence that a detriment-like concept was ever part of the Hellenistic system.

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The Road to Detriment

In these works (Serapio and Liber Hermetis) we see advice about a solar return indication transformed into an interpretive principle. The Hephaistio advice taken out of its solar return context becomes a dictum about planetary condition.

Therefore, we can see two major “sources” for the later full development of “detriment”: 1. Hephaistio’s 5th century solar return advice, which may have itself been a fuzzy interpretation of Dorotheus, became transformed in later compilations into an interpretive edict; 2. Rhetorius’s 6th or 7th century Ptolemaic style elaboration of rulership logic based on contrary qualities was transformed into a planetary condition of debility. Detriment was not fully formed or clearly defined in either late Hellenistic source but as through a game of telephone it would eventually coalesce into that concept over the next few centuries.

Section 3: The Development of Detriment in Perso-Arabic Astrology

We’ve seen that around the time of the 5th-7th century a loose concept of problematic contrariety may have taken shape in some texts. It was heavily influenced by a Ptolemaic approach to planetary combination and rationalizing arrangements. At some point in later compilations, this concept was increasingly expressed as a detriment-like principle of interpretation.

We know that by the mid 9th century, detriment was firmly established as a principle of planetary interpretation on par with depression (fall). For instance, it is found in the very thorough introductory works of Perso-Arabic astrologers Abu Ma’shar (mid-9th century) and al-Qabisi (10th century).

We saw that it didn’t seem so firmly established at the end of the Hellenistic period. One must take Hephaistio’s comments out of context or infer a new planetary condition based on disparate passages of Rhetorius. Additionally, the concept is absent from the earlier astrologers. Did the Perso-Arabic tradition simply inherit detriment or did they develop it further?

An Absence Seldom Noticed

I have noted how those studying Hellenistic astrology seldom notice what’s not there. The awareness of the lack of anything akin to detriment in nearly all of the texts is seldom commented upon. There is also very little awareness that there were initially slightly varying interpretations of sign-based rejoicing, which fused later in the tradition.

We find ourselves in a similar situation with Perso-Arabic astrology. Detriment is actually lacking in most of the early texts. It was not an integral part of the common system and does not appear to have been an important part of early practice. It is because of an emphasis on certain astrologers of the 9th and 10th centuries that we get the impression that “detriment” was an important part of Perso-Arabic astrology.

Certain astrologers of that period, such as Sahl, Abu Ma’shar, and al-Qabisi, were particularly strong influences upon the later European tradition. Therefore, much of what we think of today as “medieval” astrology tends to reflect their principles and approaches.

A Smaller Role than Supposed

Benjamin Dykes, in his introduction to his compilation “Works of Sahl and Masha’allah” (2008), noted that “detriment” is seldom an integral concept in medieval texts.

“It might come as a surprise to learn that most medieval texts (including those in this volume) do not refer to the seventh sign as the sign of “detriment.” It seems to be a later development. The medieval texts are very much concerned with the descension or fall (the opposite of exaltation), but they do not give a formal name to the opposite of one’s domicile, and rarely mention it.” (Dykes, 2008, p. xxix-xxx)

Dykes goes on to himself “reconstruct what the real meaning of the sign of detriment is, assuming that we should give it greater prominence than the medieval astrologers generally do” (Dykes, 2008, p. xxx). But then again, why should we give it greater prominence than the medieval astrologers generally do? Well, Dykes very frequently references Schmidt’s Antiochus reconstruction and the Serapio text in his works in reference to detriment. If it is a concept in Hellenistic astrology, then one wonders how it is similar or different in Perso-Arabic astrology.

Schmidt’s authority here leads one to believe that detriment was integral to the Hellenistic system. Perhaps it was less emphasized or a bit different in the medieval one. In fact, the rather light references to the condition in the medieval texts represent its development out of mere intimations in Hellenistic astrology. It is absent from most medieval texts, particularly most written before the 9th century, but we can still trace its development and slow ascendancy.

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Theophilus of Edessa

Theophilus is of interest as he is a bridge between the two traditions. He wrote in Greek and drew heavily from Dorotheus and Rhetorius. He was a Christian that served as astrologer for the Abbasid Muslim Caliph al-Mahdi in the 8th century. Theophilus wrote a number of astrological works, with a focus on elections and mundane astrology. These were translated into English and collected in one volume by Ben Dykes (2017).

Interestingly, Theophilus does not appear to have had a concept of detriment, despite drawing on Rhetorius. He interprets dignity like Dorotheus, often suggesting that domicile and exaltation can make significations more benefic. By contrast, fall and alien places (peregrine) make a planet more malefic. He also suggests that exaltation pertains to eminence and fall to a base stature (see On Various Inceptions, Ch. I.29). However, he doesn’t mention a detriment-like condition in such passages.

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Delineation

At certain points, Theophilus delineates the indications of planets in signs, particularly in a mundane astrological context. The delineations are inconsistent with what we’d expect if detriment were corrupting.

I have quoted a couple stray remarks on the transits of planets through signs. The indications are not a matter of dignity or disability but involve more complex and sometimes opaque symbolism. For instance, Jupiter in Gemini brings largely positive indications for the world (triplicity but also opposite its domicile Sagittarius) while Jupiter in Libra (also triplicity) has many negative indications.

“Jupiter transiting the sign of Gemini is significant of healthiness and strength.” (Theophilus, Ch. 10, #17, Dykes, 2017, p. 170)

Compare:

“Jupiter transiting the sign of Libra instills false hopes and disturbances within the souls of men.” (Theophilus, Ch. 10, #49, Dykes, 2017, p 171)

RC Opposition Indications

There are a few times that the opposition of a ruler to a lot, planet, or place it rules is noted in relation to some indication by Theophilus. These indications are of a different sort altogether from something like “detriment”. Mention of such ruler’s configurations (RC) are seldom in Hellenistic astrology but there are a few mentions between Dorotheus, Valens, and Rhetorius. A couple of such statements, originally from Dorotheus and Rhetorius, are noted by Theophilus. They do not pertain to a planetary debility at all but to the meaning of opposition being involved in the indication.

The aspect of opposition, unlike detriment, was an integral part of the Hellenistic system and practice. Opposition confers meanings pertaining to separation, distinction, obstacle, hindrance, or polarity. The few opposition by the ruler configuration indications bring in such meanings consistent with the concepts of ruler and opposition. However, they say nothing about planetary condition being affected by the nature of the sign or its ruler. Therefore, they pertain to opposition, not to a planetary debility.

Note on Exile

See the part of Section 4 on the Brennan reconstruction for further analysis of such configurations. Brennan uses a couple of such configurations to propose a detriment-like concept of “exile” as part of the Hellenistic system. I note that other uses of such configurations in the literature show that exile fails to capture the range of meanings expressed. On the other hand, aspectual opposition does capture the range of meanings. Even more importantly “exile” proposes a new planetary debility, while “opposition” is the use of a well-established Hellenistic configuration.

Conclusions on Theophilus

I’ve spent more time on Theophilus than I will on the other Perso-Arabic astrologers. This is for two reasons. First, the concept of “detriment” was supposedly already developed in the Hellenistic period, yet Theophilus doesn’t use it. Therefore, even after the end of the Hellenistic period, major astrologers could still not have any knowledge of a detriment-like concept.

Second, and relatedly, Theophilus drew heavily on Rhetorius. Rhetorius has been suggested to have given a clear definition of a detriment-like concept (contrariety). However, Theophilus apparently didn’t pick up the concept from his study of Rhetorius. This strongly supports my claim that detriment was not clearly defined by Rhetorius.

‘Umar al-Tabari and Abu Bakr

‘Umar al-Tabari was an influential Perso-Arabic astrologer of the late 8th century. Abu Bakr was another influential Perso-Arabic astrologer, but a bit later, probably working in the mid-9th century. I do not have access to all of their works. However, the natal materials (compiled in Persian Nativities II by Dykes) which I have read don’t show any clear evidence for the use of detriment-like debility.

The natal work by Abu Bakr (On Nativities) is notable as a particularly voluminous text. “Three Books of Nativities” by ‘Umar is briefer but probably even more influential. These are thorough, influential works on natal astrology, with no concern for detriment.

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Sign-Based Conditions

These astrologers did discuss sign-based dignity in their delineations, including domicile, exaltation, triplicity, bound, and fall, but not detriment. In fact, peregrination (not having any dignity in a place) is by far the most oft-cited sign-based debility in their works (just as in Hellenistic astrology).

Their works span the early-to-middle period of the practice of Perso-Arabic astrology (8th to mid-9th century). Clearly, detriment was not a well-established or important part of the “system” even many centuries into the practice of Perso-Arabic astrology.

Integral to the Perso-Arabic System?

Earlier I distinguished the Hellenistic system in a narrow sense from Hellenistic practice in a broad one. We should do the same for Perso-Arabic astrology. However, here the “foundational texts” are not the lost texts of the 1st or 2nd century BCE. Here the foundational texts are primarily the surviving Hellenistic works, together with some Persian and Indian ones.

The absence of “detriment” in Theophilus and many works reaching even up to the 9th century raises an important question. Can “detriment” even be considered an integral part of the Perso-Arabic astrological system? After all, this planetary condition was not a vital common element drawn on by early Perso-Arabic astrologers. It only became so with time due to the influence of a few, particularly influential astrologers.

Al-Andarzaghar

Al-Andarzaghar is a much more mysterious figure in Perso-Arabic astrology. His dating is uncertain. He is sometimes placed as early as the 7th century. He is certainly prior to Sahl (flourished early 9th century) who drew heavily upon him. He is also definitely after Rhetorius (6th or 7th century). Perhaps he dates to the 8th century, but it is unclear.

A very influential book on nativities called The Book of Aristotle was believed by Pingree, and for a time by Ben Dykes, to be a work by Masha’allah. Dykes has in more recent years presented compelling evidence that it was actually a work by al-Andarzaghar. It will be treated as a work by al-Andarzaghar here. However, note that it was published by Dykes as a work by Masha’allah (in Persian Nativities I), so excuse the confusing references.

The Book of Aristotle

While translating Sahl’s enormous work on nativities, Ben Dykes came to the realization that the Book of Aristotle was authored by al-Andarzaghar. This is because Sahl’s work includes nearly everything in the Book of Aristotle on natal topics and it all is attributed to al-Andarzaghar.

“But as I looked more at Sahl’s On Nativities, I realized two things: first, the so-called Book of Aristotle was not by Masha’allah at all, but by the earlier Persian astrologer al-Andarzaghar […]” (Dykes, 2019, from Introduction to Bishr, p. 2)

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The Father of Detriment?

If Rhetorius was the godfather of detriment, then al-Andarzaghar may be its birth father. Additionally, this might not have been a planned pregnancy.

You see, al-Andarzaghar made some very strong remarks about the debility associated with a planet in the sign opposite its domicile. However, he called the condition a planet in its “fall” and presented it instead of, rather than together with, the usual concept of fall. His secondary term for the condition “wabal” means unhealthiness, harm, or bad results. It became the standard term for the condition in the tradition, and with a meaning quite consistent with the later term “detriment”.

Rhetorius Between the Lines

The “wabal” condition is cited as a planetary corruption by Sahl, following al-Andarzaghar. It also picked up by later Perso-Arabic astrologers and ends up being a formal concept defined in late Perso-Arabic introductory texts.

The notion appears to be from a between-the-lines reading of Rhetorius. Al-Andarzaghar did draw on Rhetorius in some other places in the text. The harm or unhealthiness associated with the contrariety appears to derive from his interpretation of Rhetorius.

Mysterious Origins

I highly recommend that one reads Dykes introductions to Sahl and Theophilus. He discusses the transmission of Rhetorius in some depth. Rhetorius’s work is evidenced by Theophilus, al-Andarzaghar, and at least one other Persian (Buzurjmihr). Interestingly, Rhetorius’s name is never mentioned by these astrologers. The Rhetorius material simply found its way into the Persian tradition. Dykes argues that it was transmitted to the Perso-Arabic tradition primarily through al-Andarzaghar.

Al-Andarzaghar is the one source that uses “detriment”. This is a significant set of facts. It means that detriment was developed from Rhetorius’s contrariety perhaps only once, through al-Andarzaghar. It arrives amidst general principles of Hellenistic astrology as filtered through the Persians. The fact that it is based on comments by just one very late Hellenistic astrologer was lost to the Persians. Therefore, it simply comes into the medieval tradition as a doctrine with mysterious origins that was heavily stressed by al-Andarzaghar, a highly respected early Persian astrologer.

The New Fall?

Al-Andarzaghar opened Book II of The Book of Aristotle by noting 7 ways in which planets can be corrupted. Interestingly, the only one of these that is a sign-based debility is a detriment-like concept, but one called “falling”. By contrast, the actual condition of “fall” is not mentioned.

“Fifthly, whether they would be falling, staying in the opposite of their own domicile-namely the wabāl.” (Masha’allah, Book II, Ch. 1, Dykes, 2009, p. 18)

Clarifying the “Falls” of the Planets

Well, maybe he just said opposite of their domicile by mistake, and actually meant exaltation, right? Wrong. Later in that book, he says more about each form of planetary corruption. He makes it very clear that each planet’s fall is opposite its domicile.

“On the other hand, wabāl or falling is said to be whenever any star is regarding its own domicile from the opposite: like if the Sun would be staying in Aquarius, the Moon would be traversing in Capricorn; moreover Venus has [her] fall in Scorpio and Aries, Mercury in Sagittarius and Pisces, Saturn in Cancer and Leo, Jupiter in Gemini and Virgo, Mars in Libra and Taurus. Which if it would happen thus, they are said to have undergone misfortune.” (Masha’allah, Book II, Ch. 8, Dykes, 2009, p. 24-25)

The 7 Corruptions

For the curious, I provide the 7 planetary corruptions named by al-Andarzaghar, with a short title descriptor for each.

  1. Under the Beams: attend to the appearances, disappearances, and the stations (under the beams is the stressed condition here).
  2. Nodes: traversing with the Lunar Nodes (though later he describes the syzygies)
  3. Enclosure: enclosure by malefics
  4. House: placement in the 6th or 12th house
  5. Detriment: placement opposite the domicile
  6. Aspect: degree-based applying conjunction, square, or opposition with malefic
  7. Retrograde
Regular Fall

For the most part, it is difficult to discern whether al-Andarzaghar was aware of and used the more traditional version of fall. He refers to fall often in the text but without redefining it, so we must assume that references are actually to this “new fall”. There is only one except, which is a comment in Book III, Ch. 3.4, where he notes that the Moon in Scorpio, especially its 3rd degree, bodes badly for the fetus because it is the Moon’s fall. This is the only passage I was able to find in The Book of Aristotle that clearly refers to the more traditional concept of fall.

A Detriment More Important Than Fall

There is a relative absence of traditional “fall” from the text of al-Andarzaghar, coupled with stress on corruption associated with detriment. Therefore, in this text detriment not only often takes the place of fall but it is also highlighted as an important debility instead of fall.

Consider how in the later tradition “detriment” came to be considered an even greater debility than “fall”, assigned -5 compared to fall’s -4 in weighted pointing systems. That sort of greater stress is present in al-Andarzaghar, in addition to the clear sense of “detriment” associated with the placement.

Conclusions on Al-Andarzaghar

We see a pretty robust concept of planetary debility associated with detriment in al-Andarzaghar’s The Book of Aristotle. Given the fact that the work is early and was very influential upon Sahl and Abu Ma’shar, this appears to be a critical point in the development of detriment.

We see clear evidence for the influence of Rhetorius in the development. However, the concept is not inevitable from a reading of Rhetorius (see Theophilus). Additionally, the fact that it was inspired by novel statements from someone often considered “the last classical astrologer” is lost to the Persians. Even more significantly, we see some confusion between the concepts of fall and detriment.

Clumsy Origins

If al-Andarzaghar was the first astrologer to formally define the debility of detriment, then his manner of introducing it should certainly raise some eyebrows. In Hellenistic astrology and most early Perso-Arabic astrology fall is defined, but there is no detriment. In al-Andarzaghar we see detriment defined and stressed, as fall, and instead of the real fall.

Was this a logical conclusion in astrology’s development, a valuable innovation by an experienced astrologer, or a big misunderstanding, fostered by Rhetorius’s far-fetched musings on contrariety? You decide.

Masha’allah ibn Athari and Abu ‘Ali al-Khayyat

I put these two influential astrologers together here due to their similar lack of stress on detriment. They both thrived in the late 8th to early 9th centuries.

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For the most part, I do not see references to detriment in the works of theirs that I have read. However, there is one reference in Abu ‘Ali’s “On the Judgement of Nativities” and a couple scattered across various works of Masha’allah, to the sign of detriment. These references are always of the sort “if in its sign of fall or detriment (or opposite of domicile)”. Therefore, I’m inclined to believe they are “additions” to the texts by later scribes. However, it could simply be that these astrologers were familiar with it but had only minor occasions to refer to it.

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Not Significant

What we do come away with in reading these authors is that they certainly don’t mention detriment where they could. It is not a significant part of their system of analysis, if it is in fact part of it at all. Dykes in some footnotes to his introduction to Works of Sahl and Masha’allah (2008, p. xxx) even noted that Masha’allah has many explicit opportunities to mention detriment where he does not. These include delineations of planets in signs where there doesn’t appear to be any adversity associated with the sign of detriment.

Note that there are some indications that both men, Masha’allah and Abu ‘Ali drew on a common source for some topics. Additionally, there is some indication that al-Andarzaghar was a source (see Dykes introduction to Bishr, 2019, p. 30). Therefore, they may have both had some familiarity with al-Andarzaghar’s work but were not nearly so strongly influenced as Sahl by his approach.

Sahl bin Bishr, Abu Ma’shar, and Late Perso-Arabic Astrology

Both Sahl and Abu Ma’shar are astrologers who flourished in the 9th century. They are both also significant as astrologers profoundly influenced by al-Andarzaghar. Additionally, both men were profoundly influential upon the later tradition. In the context of detriment, both men are significant as key vectors for the transmission of the doctrine as a principle of practice.

Sahl’s Astrology

Sahl flourished in the early 9th century CE. His debt to al-Andarzaghar is great. His mammoth tome “On Nativities” is about 500 pages in its English translation (Sahl, Dykes, 2019). It includes nearly all of the natal material from The Book of Aristotle. Of course, the work is not just material from al-Andarzaghar, but rather is a thorough compendium preserving opinions of about a dozen astrologers.

The sources are primarily earlier Persian astrologers. Sahl’s work is primarily from compiling secondary sources (Persian works pertaining to Hellenistic astrology). He does not appear to have been drawing directly on primary Hellenistic sources (i.e. any Hellenistic works written prior to Rhetorius). His work preserves key texts and doctrines from disparate Persian astrologers very well.

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The Book of Aristotle

As noted, Sahl preserves almost the entirety of the natal material from The Book of Aristotle. Dykes says as much in his Introduction to Sahl’s works (Bishr, 2019, p.1):

“[…] after some research I realized that Sahl’s On Nativities contains almost the entire natal portion of a book which came to be known in Latin as the Book of Aristotle (BA) which I had translated and published as Persian Nativities I.”

Detriment as a Principle

In his work on principles, “The Introduction”, Sahl clearly includes a detriment-like debility as an interpretive principle. In a manner similar to how al-Andarzaghar noted the 7 corruptions of the planets, Sahl provides the 10 weaknesses of the planets. Note that 2 of the additions include the real traditional type of “fall” as well as being alien or peregrine. Those are the more traditional sign-based debilities which were lacking in al-Andarzaghar’s list.

“The tenth is if they were inverted, and that is when they are in the contrary of their house: that is, when they are in the seventh from their own house, and that is called ‘unhealthiness.'” (Bishr, The Introduction, #100, Dykes trans., 2019, p. 68)

The 10 Weaknesses

I noted the 7 corruptions of al-Andarzaghar. I provide the 10 weaknesses of Sahl here for comparison. I’ve highlighted those that are not found in al-Andarzaghar.

  1. House: placement in the 6th or 12th house
  2. Retrograde
  3. Under the Beams
  4. Aspect: connecting by assembly, opposition, or square with a malefic
  5. Enclosure: separating from one malefic and applying to another
  6. Fall: in sign opposite exaltation
  7. Connection to Retreating?: applying to a planet that is retreating from Ascendant while separating from a planet receiving it
  8. Peregrine: a planet with no testimony in its house and western under the beams (perhaps must be both of these conditions together)
  9. Nodes: with one of the lunar nodes and without latitude
  10. Detriment: in the seventh from their own house

Note that to al-Andarzaghar’s list, Sahl only adds fall, peregrine (or a special case of it), and that very odd application-retreat condition (#7). Apart from #7 and #10, these are conditions that were also noted in Hellenistic astrology. As #10 appears to be from al-Andarzaghar’s influence, #7 is probably also from a more obscure principle given by some Persian astrologer.

At the End of the List

It is interesting that Sahl puts detriment last in his list of debilities. It is again noted right at the end. It appears in his “The Fifty Aphorisms” as a comment at the tail end of the fiftieth aphorism. There he advises that when the lord of the Ascendant or the Moon are in the 7th from their domicile the querent will have some reluctance in the matter. This is a direct appeal to “contrariety”.

I am intrigued by Sahl’s placement of detriment last on his list of debilities, and the almost paraphrastic mention of it in the fiftieth aphorism. I’m inclined to believe that Sahl was aware of the lack of the concept in most of his sources. He includes this principle of al-Andarzaghar’s but at the end of a list which first emphasizes the more commonly noted debilities (fall and peregrination).

Other Notable Instances

Sahl notes “detriment” in many different works. One of the more notable places is in “On Choices” were he adds detriment to the 8th (of 10) corruptions of the Moon in elections. In Dorotheus, the corruption is the Moon in the twelfth-part of Mars or Saturn, while in Sahl it is the twelfth-part of a malefic, or being in the opposite sign from its domicile, or aversion to domicile. Therefore, one corruption of the Moon can now come about in three different ways. Detriment thereby became an important corruption of the Moon in electional astrology.

The other important thing to note is about instances in On Nativities where detriment is mentioned. Many of these are in passages that can be traced to al-Andarzaghar. Sometimes Sahl actually attributes the material to al-Andarzaghar. At other times detriment is mentioned within material that can be traced to the Book of Aristotle. Al-Andarzaghar was not only a major influence on Sahl, but so was his concept of detriment.

Abu Ma’shar’s Astrology

Abu Ma’shar flourished in the mid-9th century CE. He is said to have started learning astrology in middle age after an encounter with al-Kindi. He wrote a voluminous work on predictive natal techniques published in English translation as “On the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities” by Ben Dykes in 2019. He also wrote works on principles and mundane astrology which strongly influenced the later tradition.

In Dykes introduction to Ma’shar (2019), as well as in his introduction to Bishr (2019), he notes that The Book of Aristotle was a major influence on Ma’shar’s predictive methods. Therefore, Ma’shar was one of the astrologers strongly influenced by al-Andarzaghar’s methods. Detriment is a defined concept in Ma’shar’s introductory works. It also plays a role in his mundane astrology.

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Predictive Natal Astrology

Detriment does not play a significant role in Ma’shar’s work on predictive natal astrology. What is significant is that the predictive work shows the strong influence of al-Andarzaghar’s predictive methods. Sahl and Ma’shar stand as the two towering 9th century astrologers whose approaches were strongly influenced by The Book of Aristotle.

Sun in Aquarius

Dykes (in Ma’shar, 2019, p. 216, fn 61) noted that the delineation of the Sun in Aquarius can indicate illness, consistent with the “unhealthiness” association of detriment.

“If the Sun in the revolution of the year was in Aquarius and he had testimony in the year, and he is free of the infortunes, it indicates marriage and an increase in the family and [his] retinue. And if [the Sun] was made unfortunate, indicates the ruin of one of the family or their illness, as well as contention and conflict. But if he was received, it is less and easier.” (Ma’shar, Book V, Ch. 5, #12-14, Dykes trans., 2019, p. 416)

The one issue with seeing “illness” here as resulting from “detriment” is that the Sun in Capricorn can also indicate “ailments and illnesses” (#11, p. 416). However, Capricorn is not the “wabal” or detriment of the Sun. Therefore, there is strong evidence for the influence of The Book of Aristotle in Ma’shar’s predictive material, but not strong evidence for the use of detriment.

Introductions to Astrology

Ma’shar’s “Great Introduction” had a profound influence on the later tradition. Two twelfth-century Latin translations, by John of Seville and Herman of Carinthia, provided the principles of astrology for the later tradition. Ma’shar also authored an abridged version of the introduction (Abbreviation of the Introduction) which was also translated into Latin in the twelfth century, but by Adelard of Bath.

English Translations

An English translation of Abu Ma’shar’s Great Introduction was recently released in 2019 by historians of science Burnett & Yamamoto. It is available in print or eBook from the publisher Brill at a price of $349. They describe it as “the most comprehensive and influential text on astrology in the Middle Ages”.

The Abbreviation of the Introduction was translated by Ben Dykes in 2010. It is packaged together with an introductory work by al-Qabisi (10th century), and excerpts from the Great Introduction as well as from introductory works by other astrologers. This composite set of introductions was published as “Introductions to Traditional Astrology: Abu Ma’shar & al-Qabisi”.

It is very affordable (under $25). I recommend it very highly as a reference for those interested in the traditional astrology of the late Perso-Arabic period and beyond (medieval astrology).

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Detriment as a Principle

Detriment (translated as estrangement by Dykes from the Latin) is noted as a principle in the Abbreviation. It is noted in the context of the dignities while discussing exaltation and fall. It is also noted in the context of planetary corruption. Therefore, later medieval astrologers learning principles of astrology through Abu Ma’shar would simply be handed detriment as an established principle on par with fall.

Mundane Astrology

In the realm of mundane astrology, detriment also became important in Ma’shar’s astrology. Ma’shar’s “On the Great Conjunctions” highlighted the Mars-Saturn conjunction in Cancer as one of the most important mundane astrological events. The logic being that the position was the fall of Mars and detriment of Saturn. For more on this, see my article on the Six Elements for Deducing Advanced Knowledge.

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Perso-Arabic Conclusions

Tracing backward we can see that detriment became an integral part of today’s traditional astrology due to its role in the traditional astrology of the European High Middle Ages and Renaissance. The astrology of the European High Middle Ages inherited the concept from the late Perso-Arabic tradition.

Integration

Sahl and Abu Ma’shar in the 9th century had codified detriment into their influential systematic lists of principles. This elevated its importance in the practice of all forms of astrology.

Definition

They had been themselves strongly influenced by the work of al-Andarzaghar, an early Perso-Arabic astrologer. Al-Andarzaghar was probably the first Persian astrologer to formalize the concept of detriment and define it. Detriment is absent from most early Perso-Arabic works. Prior to Sahl it gets only minor mentions outside of al-Andarzaghar and probably by al-Andazaghar’s influence.

Inspiration

Unlike the other early Persian astrologers, Al-Andarzaghar emphasized the concept and defined it. He used it with the name of “fall” and instead of traditional fall. He had apparently been inspired by Rhetorius’s comments on contrariety. Rehtorius’s comments were in turn inspired by Ptolemy’s Aristotelian rationalizations of rulership arrangements and planetary combination.

Development by a Game of Telephone

In conclusion, the evidence indicates the manner of detriment’s development. It is known as the game of telphone. There was an accumulation of alterations by paraphrase, elaboration, misunderstanding, mistranslation, and change in emphasis. Through these accumulated changes an entirely new planetary debility and sign classification emerged.

Section 4: A Critical Look at Detriment’s Reconstructions

A number of traditional astrologers today have attempted to “reconstruct” detriment as the concept may have existed in Hellenistic and early medieval astrology. I have already noted my suspicions with “reconstructions” and their methodology. It is rather strange to “reconstruct” things as integral to Hellenistic astrology which astrologers of the period themselves would not have been able to recognize.

The assertion that all Hellenistic astrologers shared certain implicit principles in common which they didn’t articulate in their texts is also suspicious. These are astrologers accessing texts often hundreds of years after they were written in varied cultural and political contexts. If it wasn’t clear in their source texts then they wouldn’t have received it.

Two Hellenistic reconstructions of detriment have been particularly problematic. They continue to be cited often by traditional astrologers in defense of the view that detriment was an integral principle of Hellenistic astrology. Both place detriment early in the tradition on the basis of specious evidence, though from different forms of evidence. Therefore, I’m going to address those reconstructions, but first I want to make a note about a medieval reconstruction.

Medieval Astrology

In his introduction to Works of Sahl and Masha’allah, Ben Dykes attempted his own reconstruction of the concept for Persian astrology. However, that reconstruction was rather early in his translation efforts. His later translations of the Book of Aristotle and introductory works by Abu Ma’shar and al-Qabisi turned up actual definitions from Perso-Arabic astrologers.

Actual medieval definitions and descriptions are far superior to a speculative reconstruction. Therefore, I don’t feel it’s worth spending much time critically examining this reconstruction. Spend some time studying al-Andarzaghar’s characterization (discussed earlier) and you’ll have a good sense for the early concept.

Marginality in Early Medieval Astrology

In his comments on reconstruction, Dykes provided something more noteworthy than a reconstruction. He provided a sense of the marginal nature of the concept in that tradition.

Unlike most traditional astrologers studying early traditional texts, he did notice what wasn’t there. He advised that reconstructing detriment as a basic principle of early medieval astrology implies giving it more importance than the early medieval astrologers themselves appear to have. The concept was clearly not an integral one in early Perso-Arabic astrological practice so we need to be careful about projecting it into their system of interpretation as such.

Hellenistic Astrology

There is no evidence for a detriment-like concept prior to the 5th century CE. That is 500 years into a tradition that started in the 1st or 2nd century BCE. When intimations of detriment do arise they are in late works relying upon secondary sources rather than the early foundational texts. So, how is it that detriment still continues to be reconstructed as an integral principle of Hellenistic astrology? If its absence was good enough for the Hellenistic astrologers, why isn’t it good enough for those describing that astrology today?

Two particular “reconstructions” by influential authorities on Hellenistic astrology have led to a lot of confusion about the concept. Let’s turn to each of those now.

Schmidt’s Reconstruction

Robert Schmidt placed detriment early in the Hellenistic tradition through two notable reconstructions. First, he “reconstructed” Antiochus in 1993 in such a way that comments made by Rhetorius at the end of the tradition were presented as being made by Antiochus in the 1st or 2nd century.

Secondly, he presented the Serapio compilation text’s remark on detriment which is a comment from Hephaistio in the 5th century (taken out of context) as if it was made by Serapio in the 1st century. Therefore, let’s take a closer look at each one

Rhetorius as Antiochus

As I noted in my introduction, a good portion of Rhetorius’s Compendium was initially taken by Schmidt and Hand to be representative of Antiochus. In 1993, Project Hindsight published a reconstruction of The Thesaurus by Antiochus of Athens. The title was a misnomer as the work was from Rhetorius, not Antiochus, and included a lot of material that cannot be traced to Antiochus.

“Rhetorius (c. 500 C.E.) copied the most extensive sections of Antiochus and most of the material translated in this volume comes from Rhetorius.” (Hand, introduction to The Thesaurus, 1993, p. viii)

In this way, statements by Rhetorius, including his musings on “contrariety” came to be attributed to Antiochus. Whenever you see someone reference this work to attribute something to Antiochus of Athens, note that it should be taken as Rhetorius.

Hephaistio as Serapio

Schmidt later released “Definitions and Foundations” which was intended to delineate the principles of Hellenistic astrology. Detriment appeared in the work through the inclusion of the out-of-context quote of Hephaistio found in the Serapio text. As I’ve discussed above, the list of definitions attributed to Serapio of Alexandria is from a late Byzantine compilation. Material from other authors is evident in the compilation.

The particular “detriment” definition shows clear evidence of being from Hephaistio. It is exactly the same sentence appearing in the Hephaistio manuscripts. Thereby, an out of context quote from 5th-century astrologer Hephaistio gets associated with an early Hellenistic astrologer, Serapio.

As with Rhetorius this is a matter in which a text has some material drawing on an early astrologer, compiled with a lot of later material as well. The attribution of the “detriment” passage to Serapio is thus a misleading one.

Brennan’s Reconstruction

Chris Brennan himself discounted the Serapio attribution, tracing the comment to Hephaistio.  However, he still “reconstructs” the concept as an important “implicit” concept albeit one not defined until Rhetorius.

He proposed three possible names for it. “Adversities” draws on the Latin “adversitas” noted in the Liber Hermetis (which in turn derives from Hephaistio). “Antithesis” is a fancy word for “opposite” and draws on Rhetorius’s remarks about “opposed” or “contrary” qualities. He has proposed it more recently.

“Exile” is another term he has proposed. It is more problematic concept deriving not from any source typically linked with detriment. It comes from some comments by Valens (and Rhetorius) on a couple specific configurations where a ruler is opposing what it rules (i.e. RC statements).

Hephaistio, Rhetorius, and Late Compilations

I have already thoroughly discussed the late intimations of detriment in Hephaistio and Rhetorius. I’ve also discussed how Brennan traces the Serapio passage back to Hephaistio, as both passages use the exact same phrase. Brennan also used the Liber Hermetis as textual support for his reconstruction. What he doesn’t note is that it too appears to trace back to Hephaistio and is in another late compilation. It is written in Latin so it cannot use the exact same wording, but the phrasing is parallel and the work is another late compilation.

Most support for the reconstruction comes from Hephaistio, Rhetorius, and works derived from them. Exceptionally, he uses passages in Valens as support for an implicit detriment-like principle. As Valens is a major early Hellenistic astrologer of the 2nd century who was drawing on foundational texts, I will focus on Brennan’s reconstruction of detriment (“exile” in this case) as an implicit principle in Valens’s astrology.

Late Intimations Fall Short of Important Principles

It is uncontroversial that intimations of detriment appear in Hephaistio and Rhetorius at the tail end of the Hellenistic tradition. These “intimations” are statements that get pretty close to detriment. One can even take them out of context or read between the lines to claim they nearly imply the same thing as what became detriment. However, as noted, there are some issues with considering them full-blown detriment. Detriment only really fully developed within the Perso-Arabic period.

More problematic are “reconstructions” which place detriment as an important interpretive principle of 1st and 2nd century astrologers. We saw this with Schmidt’s backward projection of Rhetorius onto Antiochus and Hephaistio onto Serapio. By substituting mysterious early figures of Hellenistic astrology for figures at the tail end of the tradition, the concept gained legitimacy as a principle of Hellenistic astrology.

Exile on Main Street

Chris Brennan sees the detriment as an early implicit one. In his book he finds evidence for the “exile” notion in a statement made by Vettius Valens. The Valens statement actually pertains to the ruler’s configuration technique, not detriment. However, such statements are Brennan’s evidence both for implicit detriment and for the “exile” meaning associated with it.

Brennan’s RC-laden 2020 Update

In an update (July 2020), Brennan presented nearly every opposition RC passage that he could find as evidence of the implicit use of detriment in Hellenistic astrology. Anubio, Dorotheus, and Valens used the ruler’s configuration (RC technique), as well as later astrologers like Rhetorius and Theophilus following Dorotheus.

As the opposition in the context of the technique can indicate separation, consistent with the meaning of the aspect, Brennan sees in such passages strong support for his “exile” concept. Additionally, since he uses an insufficient definition of detriment (any adverse indications associated with the domicile ruler’s opposition to its domicile), he also takes all such passages as evidence of detriment as an implicit principle of chart interpretation in early Hellenistic astrology requiring reconstruction. In August 2020, I presented an updated and focused rebuttal against Brennan’s arguments for reconstruction, detailing the fallacious logic involved.

Brennan on the Exile Rationale

For Brennan, statements by Valens show evidence both of general “adversity”, as well as an idea of “exile” associated with a planet opposed to its domicile.

“[…] Valens seems to say that when the ruler of the Lot of Spirit is opposite to its own place that the native will come to live in a foreign country and will experience tarachais, which means “disturbances,” “upheavals,” “confusion,” “tumults,” or “troubles. […] Here the words “adversity” or “debility” seem to be rather appropriate for one part of the delineation, although there is also another interpretive element involved […] contrasting the concept of “home” or “domicile” with whatever the opposite of that would be […].  (Brennan, 2017, p. 251)

There are multiple problems with the reasoning involved in reconstructing a detriment-like concept into such RC passages. First, let’s look at the passage in Valens, then we’ll look at the issues with the reconstruction.

Valens on the Lot of Spirit and its Lord

The Valens passage cited by Brennan is Book 2, Ch. 20. Below, I provide the passage in question, as well as a few lines before it for context.

“It is best to find the ruler of Daimon at the Lot of Fortune or at its 10th Place (=Midheaven). If so, then the nativities are illustrious and distinguished. If it is in its proper place or at another angle, the nativities will be as distinguished and vigorous as they can be under the circumstances. If it is turned away from its proper place, just precedes an angle, or has malefics in aspect, it indicates exile and distress abroad. If it is in conjunction with a benefic or has benefics in aspect, the native will live abroad for a long time, having a varied and fluctuating livelihood. If it has a malefic in aspect, the native will become needy, destitute, experiencing trials and imprisonment. Likewise if <the ruler of the Lot or of Daimon> is in opposition to this place, it indicates men who reside abroad and become distressed. Often the goods of such men are not inherited by their own families, but by strangers.” (Valens, Book 2, Ch. 20P, Riley trans., 2010, p. 35)

Note that multiple configurations are considered in relation to delineating the Lot of Spirit, not for delineating the planet that is its ruler.

Configuration Not Planetary Condition

The most obvious difference between the Valens passage and the concept of detriment pertains to the dichotomy between a planetary condition and a configuration. Detriment is a planetary condition in which a planet is said to be weakened or corrupted in the sign opposite its domicile. In the Valens passage an adverse indication arises in connection to the lot due to the lot being opposed by its ruler. An indication for the lot is provided that is associated with this specific aspectual configuration.

No mention is made of the condition of the planet (such as it becoming corrupted), the nature of the sign, or any conflict between them. Rather, the symbolism appealed to pertains to the Lot of Spirit, its ruler, and the aspect of opposition.

Affirming the Consequent

There appears to be an error in reasoning about what constitutes support for the reconstruction. It is as if Brennan is affirming the consequent as follows: If there is an implicit concept akin to detriment in early Hellenistic astrology (the antecedent), then there will be an instance in which a ruler opposed to its own domicile is associated with adverse circumstances (the consequent). That is well and good. However, the consequent, adverse circumstances shown by a ruler in opposition to its own domicile, does not entail the premise, an implicit planetary debility.

There is more than one possible reason that the opposition of a planet to its own domicile may be associated with adverse circumstances (i.e. the meaning of opposition and the RC technique). Additionally, the premise implies additional consequents that we don’t see. For instance, given the premise, delineations of planets in the sign opposite their domicile should consistently involve some adversity (or even some notion of being far from home akin to exile), which they do not.

Oppositional Symbolism

One reason an adverse indication from a ruler’s opposition does not imply “detriment” is that opposition itself can give adverse indications. Therefore, when the ruler of a lot or a planet opposes the lot or planet we cannot be sure than adverse indication is due to some implicit concept of detriment or exile.

The symbolism need not have anything to do with a planet somehow corrupted or weakened by the substance of the sign or its ruler. Nor does it necessarily have anything to do with being far from home because it is opposite it. The traditional symbolism of “opposition” already can involve adversity, enmity, separation, distinction, and rejection.

Lot and Lord Configurations

The Valens configuration actually involves nothing like “detriment” but instead pertains to aspectual configuration. In fact, the importance of the aspectual configuration between a lot of and its lord came up often in Hellenistic astrology.

First, let’s look at an example from Dorotheus in which he explicitly examines the different types of aspectual relations between the Lot of Brothers and its lord. Next, let’s look at another example from Valens but one where the meaning of the indication is consistent with “opposition” but without any overlap with the reconstructed notions of adversity or exile.

Dorotheus on a Range of Aspectual Indications

In the Dorothean passage below we see indications from different types of aspects, and even no aspect. Note how a lack of aspect indicates estrangement, not the opposition which is about enmity and separation. Refer back to the Valens passage above and note that it was being “turned away” (i.e. no aspect) that actually indicated “exile” not opposition. For Valens, the opposition brought indications pertaining more to separation (residing abroad, strangers end up with one’s inheritance) and enmity (distress).

“If you wish to know what of love and other than that there is between him [the native] and his brothers, then look from the lord of the lot of brothers. If its lord aspects it from trine, it indicates love between them, and if it aspects from quartile, it indicates a medium amount of that love. If you find it in opposition to the lot, then it is an indicator of enmity and separation. If it [the lord] does not aspect it [the lot], it indicates the estrangement of one of them from the other.” (Dorotheus, Book I, Ch. 20, Pingree trans., 2005, p. 179)

We see that for some factors the way that the lord aspected the factor provided an indication pertaining to the meaning of the factor. One key takeaway is that the relationship of the lord to the factor it ruled impacted part of the indication given by that factor, not indications for the ruler. In other words, the interpretation of the Lot of Brothers was affected by its aspectual relationship with its ruler. The converse is not implied; the ruler is neither enhanced nor debilitated due to being in a certain aspect with the lot. This is a configurational indication, not one pertaining to planetary condition.

Valens on Step-parents

Did the indications from the opposition to Spirit in Valens’s passage above necessarily arise from a sense of adversity or exile? As I noted, the indications of living abroad, distress, and strangers inheriting one’s things all can be explained by the symbolism of opposition (and that of the lot itself). Additionally, there are not always indications pertaining to adversity or any sort of exile associated with the lord of a lot opposing a lot for Valens.

The lots of step-parents involve the “distinctive” and “separate” notions related to aspectual opposition without any of the adversity or exile associated with Brennan’s reconstruction.

“Concerning a stepfather, take the point directly opposite the Lot. If the ruler of the Lot of the Father happens to be at the point in opposition or if the ruler of the point in opposition happens to be at the Lot, this indicates a stepfather. Likewise if the <ruler of> the Lot of the Mother is found in opposition and the ruler of the point in opposition to the Lot of the Mother is found at the Lot of the Mother, this will correspondingly indicate a stepmother. (Valens, Book 2, Ch. 32P, Riley trans., 2010, p. 44)

This passage is from the same book 3 of Valens’s Anthology as the one cited by Brennan in support of his reconstruction. Here a step-parent is indicated when the lord of the lot for the parent is opposed to the lot. Similarly, it can also be indicated if the lord of the sign opposite the lot is at the lot. Both types of configurations involve a planet in the sign opposite its domicile. Again, no planetary debility is mentioned, but rather the delineation of the lot pertains to a configurational relationship with its ruler.

Reconstruction Conclusions

While there are intimations of detriment at the tail end of the Hellenistic tradition. Prior to that we don’t see the inimations of detriment, and we certainly don’t see “implicit use of detriment” whatever that means.  Specious attributions have at times been used as evidence for detriment as an early principle, but mislead by projecting the end of the Hellenistic tradition onto the beginning.

The assertion that there was something akin to detriment in the early tradition which was used implicitly as an interpretive factor is unsupported. Textual evidence indicates that when context and other similar passages are examined it is clear that such passages involve the RC technique not a sign-based planetary debility like detriment. Additionally, the assertion that “exile” was implicitly symbolized by a planet opposed to its domicile is unsupported. In fact, it was the lack of aspect from its ruler that could most often associate a factor with exile.

Summary and Conclusions

Detriment’s Historical Development in Brief

Detriment was not an integral principle of the Hellenistic system of astrology. All evidence indicates that it was not a principle expounded in the foundational texts and was not used by the early major figures such as Dorotheus, Valens, Ptolemy, Antiochus/Porphyry, etc. Something resembling detriment does not crop up until Hephaistio in the 5th century and Rhetorius in the 6th or 7th. However, even then it is iffy if such instances constitute “detriment”, as Hephaistio neglected to define it as a principle and it is relatively unclear in Rhetorius’s Compendium.

Intimation

Rhetorius’s musings on contrariety, apparently inspired by Ptolemy, appear to have formed the basis for detriment’s development in the Perso-Arabic period. However, those comments did not necessarily entail detriment, as Theophilus (8th century), who drew on Rhetorius, doesn’t appear to have used the concept.

Defintion

Al-Andarzaghar, a rather mysterious early Persian astrologer, may have been the first to clearly define a detriment-like concept. He labeled it “wabal” or unhealthiness. Curiously, he also called it fall and defined it instead of rather than alongside the traditional debility of fall. Perso-Arabic astrologers after him showed little regard for the concept. It was absent entirely from many Perso-Arabic texts of the 8th and 9th centuries.

Integration

The concept ascended to an important principle due to the strong influence of al-Andarzaghar’s Book of Aristotle on Sahl and Abu Ma’shar. Their voluminous and influential output in the early-to-mid 9th century put detriment on the astrological map, so to speak. From that time this added questionable distinction has been a hallmark of western astrological practice.

Was Detriment Integral to Hellenistic and Persian Astrology?

Never an Integral Principle of Hellenistic Astrology

Detriment was not a defined principle of Hellenistic astrology. There is also an absence of evidence that it was used explicitly or even implicitly as an interpretive principle by any of the astrologers of the first 500 years of the practice of Hellenistic astrology. Therefore, detriment was clearly not an integral principle of Hellenistic astrology by any measure.

The early major astrologers drew on the foundational texts of the tradition. If detriment was an interpretive principle in those texts, especially if it was a defined one, then we’d see evidence for it in the surviving early major works, such as those by Dorotheus, Ptolemy, and Valens. We do not. Therefore, any reconstruction of such a concept as a principle of the Hellenistic system is misleading.

Not an Integral Principle of Early Perso-Arabic Astrology

Even when we get to Perso-Arabic astrology, detriment is still not an integral principle of practice in the early period of that tradition. This is a further indication of how detriment failed to become an important and integral principle even by the end of the Hellenistic period. Arguably, some astrologers, such as Hephaistio and/or Rhetorius may have considered something like detriment in interpretation, but it doesn’t appear to have yet become an important or widespread principle in practice.

Apparently, detriment first cropped up as a clear planetary debility in al-Andarzaghar’s Book of Aristotle. It was used as a new type of “fall” and defined instead of the typical fall. This alternative fall (detriment) was marked and atypical in the early Persian tradition which was still comprised primarily of works that used the traditional fall instead. Therefore, detriment was not integral to the Persian system in the narrow sense.

An Integral Principle of Late Perso-Arabic Astrology and Beyond

Detriment became an integral part of late Perso-Arabic astrological practice after being defined into the system alongside of traditional fall by Sahl and Abu Ma’shar. They had been heavily influenced by the Book of Aristotle. It was integral to early European medieval astrology and has remained an integral part of western traditional astrology to this day.

Two Views on Detriment’s Role in Hellenistic Astrology

Given the textual evidence, I see two primary distinct viewpoints which are consistent with it, as well as any number of gradations between them. The skeptical view sees detriment as something completely absent from Hellenistic astrological practice, developed under questionable circumstances relatively late in the Perso-Arabic period. The ancient origins view sees it as originating early in the period, but not catching on until late in the Hellenistic period.

No view supported by the evidence can credibly suppose that detriment was an integral part of Hellenistic astrology due to its absence from the major works of the first 500 years. The pivotal works of the first 500 years which were drawing on the foundational texts show no evidence of using the concept. Therefore, it cannot credibly be considered a part of the Hellenistic system of interpretation nor a principle featured in the now-lost foundational texts.

Skeptical View

On most days of the week, I tend to gravitate toward the skeptical view of detriment. This view sees a lack of the principle of detriment in Hellenistic astrology in the broad sense, the practice, not just in the foundational system. It is the skeptical extreme of the interpretation of the facts. In support of the view, Hephaistio and Rhetorius only had intimations of detriment and they seemed to be arrived at in different manners.

The skeptical view also sees detriment’s development as largely a product of Rhetorius’s misguided over-rationalizations which caused al-Andarzaghar to have some confusion about the nature of fall. Basically, it shows clear indications of being developed primarily as through a game of telephone, and so is a very questionable addition.

Hephaistio’s Remarks and their Descendants

Hephaistio himself or those reading him, appear to have possibly misinterpreted Dorotheus on solar return transits. Additionally, advice about solar return transits and electional chart placements falls short of a general principle, and Hephaistio fails to define such a general principle when given the chance in Book I. Interpolations and backward attribution are extremely common in this tradition (even to the present day; see the Reconstruction section above) so the possibility that the intimations of detriment were due to addition are also possible.

Hephaistio’s transit remark taken out of context shows up directly (word for word) in a later compilation drawing on Serapio, as well as in paraphrase in the compilation Liber Hermetis. When they were added to those compilations is uncertain and may have even been after the development during the Perso-Arabic period. Many late compilations were transmitted with knowledge of Perso-Arabic material. For instance, our manuscript of Porphyry ends with interpolations from the Perso-Arabic astrologer Sahl. Therefore, this position is skeptical but by no means far-fetched.

Rhetorius’s Remarks and their Descendants

The skeptical view directs one to the fact that Rhetorius’s Compendium never does actually define a detriment-like concept of planetary debility. In the Compendium itself, there are only musings on the logic of the layout of houses according to contrary qualities of rulers, in a sort of elaboration of what we see in Ptolemy. There are also some musings on how planetary combinations involving contrariety can lead to bad outcomes.

One can read this material without getting a distinct impression that any planetary debility is implied. Apparently, Theophilus of Edessa did just that.

In another work, attributed to a sign material by Teucer of Babylon as discussed by Rhetorius, we do see the signs characterized as the contrariety of specific planets, which characterized it as a type of planetary debility. However, the material is not just from Teucer, as scholars have noted interpolations pertaining to later astrologers. Additionally, the attribution to Rhetorius has also been questioned. Therefore, we again see the clearest evidence for detriment from a text that is likely a late compilation and may have even been influenced by the Perso-Arabic development of the concept.

Development as a Game of Telephone

The skeptical view sees detriment’s development as through a game of telephone. Accumulated elaborations, erroneous corrections, and misunderstandings led to its creation and elevation as an important principle.

The eventual concept has Aristotelian ideas embedded in it, due to the elaboration of Ptolemaic logic by Rhetorius. Rhetorius’s elaborations for the reasoning behind sign layout were inspired by Ptolemy but took the concept farther, well beyond traditional logic for house layout.

Rhetorius came to the Persian tradition as a compendium of Hellenistic astrology, not as Rhetorius. His musings were not interpreted as the musings of the last major classical astrologer but as an in-depth discussion of an important matter in a comprehensive text of Hellenistic astrology’s principles and techniques.

Due to the fact that Rhetorius discussed the oppositions of the houses immediately following a discussion of exaltation and fall, al-Andarzaghar took it as another type of fall. He even seems to have taken it to be much more important than the more traditional fall.

Similarly, late Perso-Arabic astrologers took al-Andarzaghar’s work as being itself a comprehensive compendium of Hellenistic and early Persian astrology. The substitution of detriment for traditional fall was not seen as a questionable innovation by al-Andarzaghar. This new concept was simply added into the fold of principles by the later Perso-Arabic astrologers. The game of telephone was complete with detriment as an important astrological principle.

Ancient Origins View

More rarely, I muse that ancient origins in Hellenistic astrology may be a possibility. We don’t have textual evidence at this time that any astrologers in the first 500 years of the practice of Hellenistic astrology used or considered detriment. However, this doesn’t mean we won’t run across some one day. Attributions to Serapio and Teucer have their issues, but it is still possible that one of them or some other Hellenistic astrologer did make a statement implying something like detriment, at least in the planetary debility sense, early in the tradition. That would not elevate it to an integral principle as it is absent from the major texts, but the possibility for an early intimation is possible.

Hephaistio, Rhetorius, and Related Texts

Perhaps Hephaistio did correctly paraphrase Dorotheus on the solar return transits. It could be our surviving Dorothean manuscripts and excerpts which altered the passage toward a more aspectual indication.

Perhaps Hephaistio was drawing on an earlier paraphrase of Dorotheus by someone else, which also made its way into the Serapio compilation and the Liber Hermetis.

Rhetorius may have desired to spend more time elaborating upon the opposition to domiciles on account of this Dorothean paraphrase material floating around or even a statement by some other marginal astrologer.

This is all speculative and lacking sufficient evidence, but these are possibilities that are also not completely far-fetched, particularly given the paucity of texts which have survived.

Late Intimations as Possible Implicit Detriment

If the Teucer material is shown to have been correctly attributed to Rhetorius, then that also implies an intimation as a sign-classification, at least at the end of the tradition (6th-7th century).

The Hephaistio remarks show detriment could have been at least an implicit principle for Hephaistio and maybe some other 5th century astrologers. At least for certain types of transits and elections, if not beyond.

Therefore, under the ancient origins view we are implored to consider at least the possibility that something like detriment was an implicit part of astrological practice by some astrologers in late Hellenistic astrology (5th-7th centuries).

Development as Affirmation

The flip side to the skeptical view on development is one which sees development as a matter of astrologers increasingly affirming the value of a once marginal principle. Hephaistio and Rhetorius were discovering the value of this idea in their own practice so it cropped up in their works. Al-Andarzaghar found the concept even more valuable than fall so he heavily promoted it in his own work. Perhaps he found traditional fall less valuable so it was not emphasized.

Later, astrologers like Sahl and Abu Ma’shar considered detriment due to their great respect for the principles and techniques stressed by al-Andarzaghar. Perhaps they put detriment to the test and found that it was just as important as fall, so they made sure to define it alongside fall. Due to the great value of their work and opinions, detriment was assured its rightful place as an important principle of astrology (so this view goes).

My Thoughts on the Ancient Origins View

Personally, I feel that the ancient origins view is unrealistic, full of hero-worship, and lacking critical depth of reasoning.  It appeals to the sense of many traditional astrologers today that the great figures of medieval astrology made no mistakes. Additionally, it appeals to the view that detriment was “destined” to become a principle. What one may see as “mistakes” were actually destiny intervening to make it happen.

My own view is that destiny introduces ideas to confound and degrade just as often as it introduces ideas to clarify and improve. Whether “detriment” was meant to end up a part of the astrological system is irrelevant. The history of ideas is not a one-way march toward enlightenment. We cannot assume that every idea which we inherit is of equal value. As seekers of wisdom, we must think critically and carefully evaluate competing ideas. Evaluation of detriment’s interpretive value is the very subject of Part II.

References

Antiochus of Athens (1993). The Thesaurus. (Robert Hand, Ed. & Robert H. Schmidt, Trans.). Cumberland, MD: The Golden Hind Press.

al-Tabari, U., & al-Hasib, A. B. (2010). Persian Nativities II: ’Umar al-Tabari and Abu Bakr. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Bishr, S. ibn, & Masha’allah. (2008). Works of Sahl & Masha’allah. (B. N. Dykes, Ed. & Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Bishr, S. ibn. (2019). The Astrology of Sahl B. Bishr: Volume I: Principles, Elections, Questions, Nativities(B. N. Dykes, Ed. & Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Brennan, C. (2017). Hellenistic Astrology: The Study of Fate and Fortune. Amor Fati Publications.

Dorotheus of Sidon. (2005). Carmen Astrologicum. (D. Pingree, Trans.). Abingdon, MD: Astrology Center of America.

Dorotheus of Sidon, & al-Tabari, U. (2017). Carmen Astrologicum: The ’Umar al-Tabari Translation. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Hephaistio of Thebes (1998). Apotesmatics Book II. (Robert H. Schmidt, Trans.). Cumberland, MD: The Golden Hind Press.

Hephaistion of Thebes (2013). Apotelesmatics Book III: On Inceptions. (E. Gramaglia, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Lopilato, R. (1998). The Apotelesmatika of Manetho, Diss. Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Masha’allah, & al-Khayyat, A. ’Ali. (2009). Persian Nativities I: Masha’allah and Abu ’Ali. (B. N. Dykes, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press

Ma’shar, A., & Al-Qabisi. (2010). Introductions to Traditional Astrology. (B. N. Dykes, Ed. & Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Ma’shar, A. (2019). Persian Nativities IV: On the Revolutions of the Years of Nativities (B. N. Dykes, Ed. & Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: The Cazimi Press.

Maternus, J. F. (2011). Mathesis. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). American Federation of Astrologers.

Paulus Alexandrinus & Olympiodorus. (2001). Late Classical Astrology: Paulus Alexandrinus and Olypiodorus. (D. G. Greenbaum, Trans.). Reston, VA: Arhat.

Porphyry, & Serapio. (2009). Porphyry the Philosopher. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.

Ptolemy, C. (1940). Ptolemy: Tetrabiblos. (F. E. Robbins, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved from http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Ptolemy/Tetrabiblos/home.html

Rhetorius of Egypt, & Teucer of Babylon. (2009). Rhetorius the Egyptian. (J. H. Holden, Trans.). Tempe, AZ: American Federation of Astrologers.

Valens, V. (2010). Anthologies. (M. Riley, Trans.) (Online PDF.). World Wide Web: Mark Riley. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/indiv/r/rileymt/Vettius%20Valens%20entire.pdf

Featured image is a detail from “Helios and Phaeton with Saturn and the Four Seasons” Nicolas Poussin (circa 1635) [Public domain]

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Ant

Student of astrology since the mid-nineties. Business owner, husband, and father of three. I enjoy hiking, reading, making music, and learning languages.

10 thoughts on “Detriment: A Questionable Distinction | Part 1: Historical Development

  • August 8, 2020 at 2:24 am
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    What a delightfully incisive last part of this comment. After reading your original article on detriment, I’m wholly convinced of your position. I’m also disappointed to think that methodical, source-based historical research like yours will probably not be in the limelight as detriment continues to spiral into widespread usage, confounding newbie traditional astrologers (and further corruptions into modern astrology as well). I have great respect for your view on indexical vs. symbolic interpretation; astrology either works or it doesn’t. At least, for those of us who are interested in getting concrete results and understanding from it rather than playing mind games with ourselves and our clients.

    You mentioned Ancient Greek–do you recommend a specific way to learn it? I’ve been itching to get into the source texts as well.

    Reply
    • August 9, 2020 at 4:13 pm
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      Hi Sad,

      Thank you for the kind remarks.

      I’m still a beginner with Ancient Greek and it is a tricky language to learn, in part due to the huge vocabulary and its use over a large span of time in different areas. The astrological texts are written in Koine (common) which is the language of the New Testament. From what I’ve heard it is good to get familiar with classical Greek first as that set a lot of the cultural background of reference for thinkers in the Koine period.

      I own about 10 different Greek textbooks. My strategy right now is something of an immersion into speaking and reading while picking up the basic rules of the grammar and keeping things fun and interesting. I’m in Stage 1 right now, and hope to be in stage 2 before the end of the year:

      Stage 1: 4 main resources
      1. The Great Courses Ancient Greek course. The Great Courses Online is a great resource that currently costs me $10/month. It has a ton of courses on ancient history, statistics, math, astronomy, and more. The Ancient Greek and Latin courses offered are pretty good. I’m 2/3 of the way through the Greek course. He focuses primarily on Homeric Greek but with nods to the differences in Koine and some translation exercises pertaining to the New Testament in addition to the Homeric. Good video + textbook experience.

      2. Mango Languages app ancient and koine modules for picking up grammar while speaking and listening. This app is accessible free through my library. The Ancient Greek module has 4 parts. 2 which focus on sections near the beginning of the Iliad. As well as 1 from Plato and 1 from Herodotus. The Koine module has you learning 4 passages from the New Testament, including the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew, another passage from Matthew, and a passage from Revelation. You hear, see, and learn to memorize these passages, while learning grammar, vocab, and cultural references pertaining to them. It’s pretty neat that I can recite from memory long passages of Homer, Herodotus, and the Gospel of Matthew. My kids say it sounds like I’m speaking in tongues. The ancient pronunciation is the pretty standard restored academic one, while the Koine pronunciation is the more standard outside the US Koine pronunciation that is closer to Modern Greek. Getting a feel for being able to switch between them is valuable, even though neither likely matches exactly how any given particular group was speaking Greek during a specific historical point in time.

      3. Polis: Speaking Ancient Greek as a Living Language – This is an everyday speaking course in Ancient Greek that is held at the Polis Institute. The textbook is about $20-$30 for it. There is a website for it that has audiofiles you can download free and there are free videos on Youtube of some of the interactive exercises, including using Total Physical Response with commands and greetings. Very cool concept. The grammar comes more slowly, but the idea is to get the sound and feel of Ancient Greek into you for everyday communication. I believe in the philosophy and what the author says about how understanding common everyday language aids in better understanding the meaning of abstract and philosophical terms as they are grounded in the more concrete language that speakers would’ve been familiar with. I’m not far into this but it is a good supplement. Things like songs for singing the alphabet, exercises for getting basic grammar ingrained in your brain, etc. are very helpful.

      4. Complete Ancient Greek by Betts ebook – I think I got this kindle ebook for $4. The nice thing is that he explains some grammar, then has a reading with vocab at the end. I make flashcards for the vocab. Then I enjoy reading the passages at night with the memorized vocab. After the first couple of chapters the readings are real passages from Aesop’s Fables, proverbs, and more.

      Stage 2: I’m on review mode for all my Mango stuff but I’m still finishing up the other 3. When done, then I move to stage 2. This consists of another 4 things.
      1. & 2. I’m using 2 review textbooks to acquire more vocab and grammer, both by Frank Beetham – Leaning Greek with Homer and Learning Greek with Plato.
      3. Reading Greek: Text and Vocabulary – I’m going to use this to further increase my vocab and for regular reading practice.
      4. Athenaze Italian edition – I’m a firm believer in the Orberg Natural Language method. A guy named Miraglia who is an Italian advocate of that method, adapted the Athenaze textbook of Ancient Greek to produce an edition that is a lot like the Familia Roma Latin books Orberg wrote. I have about intermediate Italian skills, so I’m going to supplement with this text as a breezy additional review and practice.

      Stage 3:
      After working through those. Then I’m going to be working through Mark Riley’s Greek Reader and Juan Coderch’s Intermediate Greek Vocabulary in Context. Once I complete Stage 3 I’ll be ready to just focus on using translation of texts as my main means of furthering my Greek. Currently, I jump into Greek astrological texts at random at times to find my way around and familiarize myself with customary vocab.

      Best wishes,

      Ant

      Reply
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  • July 26, 2020 at 12:04 pm
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    Not true Serapio rhetorius and Dorotheus often talk about the negative effect of detriment. Watch the upcoming podcast by Chris Brenann with Dykes

    Reply
  • July 17, 2020 at 7:52 pm
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    Anthony, I’d like to invite you to join me to discuss this issue on The Astrology Podcast, if you want to. I would prefer to discuss or debate the topic with you directly, rather than just record an episode about it on my own in response to your article. As you said above though, you have declined my previous invitations to join me on the podcast. So, please let me know.

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    • July 22, 2020 at 8:05 am
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      Hi Chris,

      Somehow this comment got kicked to the spam folder by Akismet.

      I have no desire to be on a podcast but I appreciate the offer.

      Also, given the research-based nature of the arguments, and the complications and intricacies involved, I think the written word is the appropriate forum for such matters. I look forward to hearing your thoughts though.

      Best wishes,

      Anthony

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    • March 3, 2020 at 10:53 am
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      Edit: Some of my initial remarks (first paragraph) in this comment were off-the-cuff, non-charitable, and just insensitive. It was brought to my attention that they were hurtful to someone I care about so I deleted them on 07/20/2020, the same day it was brought to my attention. The rest remains as it was as I feel it is on-topic and any criticisms are fair ones.

      I do use essential dignity though in my own work. I don’t reject traditional astrological classifications like dignity and malefic/benefic, etc. However, I do reject “detriment’ (by any name, whether antithesis, exile, etc) because it was not part of the original system, it was introduced in a suspect manner into the system, the “logic” behind it is faulty, the “reconstructions” of it are faulty, it doesn’t bring anything valuable to the system, and evidence that its symbolism is significant is weak.

      A more important conversation about essential dignity is not had in the community, which is about the variation in interpretation of it in the early tradition, and the evidence for which interpretations are more fruitful. In my opinion, it’s most fruitful in terms of a mild strength/prominence consideration, though with exaltation and fall taking on some additional symbolism of prominence vs. suppression. In other words, the planet’s significations are reinforced where it has a share of rulership, for better or worse.

      Although I can think of a few things that bear on the podcast discussion. First, the language of the discussions implies that dignity is being interpreted as “fortunate” and negative dignity as “unfortunate”. I disagree with that interpretation of dignity and that it is necessarily the only Hellenistic interpretation to choose from, both based on my studies of Hellenistic astrology and my experience with charts.

      Second, “antithesis” as a concept is brought up, but the Greek word just as easily (and more plainly) translates as “opposite”, as in this is the opposite of that. Opposite is what Rhetorius plays up in his use of the word, that the signs are opposite because the rulers have significations that are opposite. The passage is in fact a discussion of the relationship between domiciles opposite each other and the opposite qualities of their rulers, not of planets in the signs opposite their domiciles, in the relevant passage of Rhetorius where that came up (as discussed in my article). Antithesis is the use of a fancy word in place of a common word (opposite), in this case in a way that obscures the valency of opposite which is more similar to the valency of the Greek sense. Therefore, it is a strategic translation to obfuscate rather than a good one to clarify. Then there is the additional problem that this concept of “opposites” first appears in Rhetorius at the very end of tradition, in a passage with suspect logic, etc. (as detailed above in my article).

      Third, there are deeper issues of chart interpretation at stake in the essential dignity discussion which are glossed over. I speak of the distinction between an indexical view of chart factors and a symbolic view. In an indexical view, which I would argue most astrologers, both traditional and modern hold, a planet in a difficult position, would by nature and necessarily connect its natural and accidental significations with a lot of difficulty. This is because it would signify that whatever the planet is indexing was damaged in some way or in a very difficult state. For instance, if the planets index elements of psyche, then a major element of the psyche was in a state of damage, conflict, or discomfort, necessarily so. If they index gods, then a god was predisposed to you in an unfortunate manner, along with the things and people under that god’s dominion. If they index some other occult source of whole realms of your experience in life, then that realm of experience is inherently damaged or corrupted. In such a view, it doesn’t matter what life experiences appear to be, you are still mired in misfortune of some kind pertaining to that planet behind the scenes. There are multiple problems with this situation.

      On the one hand, essential dignity is having the exact problems brought up by the modern astrologer critics. Many modern astrologers see the planets as indexing the psyche first and foremost. That is why if you assert this category of planets functioning better or worse, then they see this as better or worse for some important part of the psyche’s function. The person’s “soul” is essentially damaged in some way, and this can manifest both negatively in their personality and/or in outer events through behaviors, means of relating, projections, etc. The traditionalist solution (brought up in the podcast) is to say, well, that concept is just not right for “modern astrology” and is being misinterpreted by modern astrologers who don’t really understand traditional astrology. However, if astrology is indexical to an underlying causal reality, then that is nonsensical, as there is only “one astrology” in such a view. Either the concept holds and the thing indexed is damaged in some way (essentially in its essence; the essential of essential dignity) or it doesn’t and it isn’t. Of course, there may be more details as to how to judge whether the planet is damaged or not and its degree of damage, but the fact that essential dignity would improve or damage function would be uncontroversial. If the chart is not just about the psyche, as it wasn’t in the traditional view, then you are actually forced to question an assumption of most modern psychological astrology which is that the chart fundamentally indexes the psyche, with the birth chart being a map of its individual predisposition at birth. So, then, what does it index?

      There are many traditional astrologers who hold indexical views, many with just fuzziness regarding what the chart indexes, but an indexical view nonetheless. Some say it indexes the state of gods or spiritual intelligences. Others may just see it as index some ill-defined root of experience in the unmanifest universal mind. For others it just somehow indexes the reality behind the experiences, the wheel of fortune, the winds of time. For instance, in Demetra George’s book on Hellenistic astrology, a complex set of criteria are used to assess planetary condition. The implication, clearly stated in the beginning of the book, is that planetary condition shows functioning of some realms of experience – how easy or difficult it is to operate within certain realms of life. This is an indexical view. If the planet has very bad condition, then the things naturally and accidentally ruled by the planet will be attended by greater difficulty. It is no longer a judgement on personality but it is still a judgment on “fortune”. The implication is that many well functioning planets will indicate ease and high function while ill-functioning ones will bring difficulty and dysfunction. The modern astrologer may still object – so now factors indicate causes that are not necessarily inside the psychology of the person, but there will still clearly be functional and dysfunctional “lives” or “souls” determined by planetary conditions at birth.

      On the one hand, the configurations seem to have clear implications for what is observed in life, as the planets and other factors indicate an underlying causal reality. We should expect that more planetary dysfunction correlates with a more dysfunctional life, and better planetary function with a more functional one, especially in the areas of life naturally and accidentally ruled by the planets involved. There are Hellenistic astrologers who advocated as much – for instance, Firmicus Maternus and Manetho (as I discussed in the article above). However, experience with charts shows that is not remotely the case.

      On the other hand, the “index” view has an out from any empirical justification. Because the index is of something supernatural or occult (a cause of circumstances behind the scenes of everyday experience), it makes no prediction about manifest experience. The difficulty must and necessarily exists in the supernatural realm that is indexed, such as in your mind or among the gods, but how it plays out in your life depends on your level of psychological or spiritual growth, providence, strategy (such as magickal mitigation), and so forth. Therefore, there is some major force shaping the person’s reality which is in a state of difficulty for the person that has the planet in fall and that fact is beyond reproach for those holding an indexical view. Evidence against the interpretation just shows a suppression of the manifestation, while evidence for it shows it rearing its head.

      The alternative is the symbolic approach. In that approach, the planets are just signs in a sea of many other signs. These signs come together to form more complex and meaningful significations. There are strategies for interpreting a variety of signs with similar significations to arrive at an interpretation as to what is indicated regarding a topic. If the interpretation doesn’t match with the observation then the manner of interpreting and combining the signs is faulty and needs improvement. For a sign to indicate something about a specific period of time, like the character of a circumstance in that time, then it must have both some root indication in the nativity and that signification must be reinforced by temporal signs such as activation and configurations in return charts.

      This view has the advantage of allowing for critical thought and improvement. For instance, when Maternus asserts that those with more planets in exaltation will be more successful, we can look at those with more planets and less in exaltation and their level of success. Counter-examples show that the interpretation is faulty. Similarly, many Perso-Arabic astrologers give sets of configurations that indicate homosexuality, and even some indicators that counter indications of homosexuality. If we find that homeosexuals tend to have more than one of the indicators while non-homosexuals do not or have the counter indicators, then we may find that manner of interpreting the signs accurate. If we find counter-examples it tells us that there are missing pieces and the interpretation needs more development along similar lines, or that some signs or more important than others, or that the manner of interpretation is overall very weak. In such a symbolic view, no factor’s meaning comes about due to the fact that it indexes some occult thing. Rather the factors have a cluster of meaning around a central prototype or prototypes which are extended and contextualized by other symbols. The fact that a planet was in fall at birth can signify one thing, but the fact that its twelfth-part was in exaltation can signifying yet a different thing, and they both may be reinforced at different times, while neither “Indicate” anything specific about the life prior to contextualization, reinforcement, and activation in some instance and relative to some inquiry. In such a case, to see the value of detriment (as a concept), or a specific interpretation of fall, one must look at periods where the planet with such symbolism is clearly most activated and specifically that symbolism is reinforced.

      This is why I take the deep dive into astrological symbolism in Lesson 8 of the lessons. It’s a neglected area. One can dance in circles of inconclusive reasoning without an understanding of it or with just fuzzy assumptions about it. For beginners, one can say, well, you just don’t understand that principle because you haven’t studied that “system” but if you want to seriously study astrology and are a critical-thinker then issues with dignity, difficult charts, how to interpret difficult aspects, etc. will persist until you analyze your own beliefs about astrological symbolism and whether they are fruitful for making judgments about the efficacy of techniques and having a means of improving them. In terms of just being able to spot potentially difficult configurations, and having consulting skills to give someone therapy and point to those configurations when they speak of traumatic events, that is almost exclusively extra-astrological and pertains to the human need for communication, consult, vindication, and understanding.

      Most of the podcast discussion though amounts to a “leave it to the experts” attitude. Unfortunately, astrological experts fall far short of most modern doctors when it comes to efficacy in reading the relevant signs. Membership in clubs, holding the proper metaphysical beliefs, therapy skills, familiarity with a school of thought, and self-promotion are far more important to becoming an expert in astrology than being able to show that you can consistently read signs in a way that the interpretation reflects the observed reality or in a way that is even testable and subject to improvement or critical analysis in any sense.

      Best wishes,

      Ant

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